Prototype for Reliable, Non-Invasive Pilot Blood Oximeter Expands to Include Communication System

01.05.19 02:41 AM By Jennie Hempstead

Ms. Devaki Raj, CEO and Founder at CrowdAI, pitches her product to a crowd of small businesses, venture capitalists, and Airmen during the Inaugural Air Force Pitch Day in Manhattan, New York, March 7, 2019. Raj was awarded a same-day contract with the U.S. Air Force during AF Pitch Day. AF Pitch Day is designed as a fast-track program to put companies on one-page contracts and same-day awards with the swipe of a government credit card. The Air Force is partnering with small businesses to help further national security in air, space and cyberspace. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech Sgt. Anthony Nelson Jr.)


In 2017 the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Mike Moulton, working with Bob Lee from Wright Brothers Institute and Adam Renner, a former AFRL/RH employee, collaborated to build a physiological monitoring system that could be incorporated with a communication earplug for pilot health monitoring. This system uses a dual infrared light source to pick up the signal from the inner ear and would remain stable under rigorous conditions, such as high G loading. This system is designed to also collect six degree of freedom acceleration levels, heart rate, and core body temperature. This gives the pilot freedom to move without sacrificing the quality of the data. Read the original story here.


WBI has made considerable strides to get the In-Ear Physiological Monitor closer to production, and now includes a communication system that will provide further capabilities to pilots. In September of 2018, The Shogun Spark Innovation Cell and 18th Aerospace Medicine Squadron at Kadena AB, Japan engaged WBI to develop and facilitate a CONOPS Workshop and Design Sprint to quickly design and test the in-ear pulse oximeter concept. Two key workshops accelerated production: the first explored existing, off-the-shelf technologies and the second acted as a design sprint. Input from engineers, designers, end-users and medical personnel created a plan to build and test a Minimal Viable Product that would include a system that collects core body temperature, heart rate, pulse ox, head acceleration with a communication system that would allow for integration into the aircraft. This comm system would include pass through hearing, hearing protection, as well as an alerting system for hypoxia and potentially hypothermia. The system would also have the capability to detect an ejection event and send a trigger to a future survival radio to send out pilot health status.


Custom ear molds for testable prototypes were created at AFRL and WBI.


What began as a data-gathering capability during unexplained physiological events in fighter pilots, has emerged into so much more. This technology can give a real-time depiction of pilot health. It can provide rich data that will speed up post-event investigations and prevent new ones. It now includes a communication system that provides clearer messaging, versus mask-muffled radio speak. Should an event result in an ejection, it can travel with the pilot to act as a beacon to rescuers, regardless of the pilot’s state of consciousness. These improvements have all been made possible by the iterative prototyping process in the Maker Hub.