More than 430,000 U.S. service members were diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury from 2000 to 2020, and up to 35% of men and women in the military have suffered a concussion during combat. Now, researchers are working to modernize the standard issue military helmets, using the latest technology to save lives on the battlefield.
A combat helmet or battle helmet is a type of helmet, a piece of personal armor designed specifically to protect the head during combat. Today’s militaries often use high quality helmets made of ballistic materials such as Kevlar and Twaron, which offer improved protection. Some helmets also have good non-ballistic protective qualities, against threats such as concussive shock waves from explosions.
Cushioning is used to negate concussive injuries. Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory published a study in 2011 that concluded that the addition of an eighth of an inch/3 millimetres of cushion decreased the impact force to the skull by 24%
Many of today’s combat helmets have been adapted for modern warfare requirements and upgraded with STANAG rails to act as a platform for mounting cameras, video cameras and VAS Shrouds for the mounting of night vision goggles (NVG) and monocular night vision devices (NVD).
“Current helmets have evolved little since the last century and are still heavy, bulky, passive devices. Because of advances in sensors and additive manufacturing, we’re now reimagining the helmet as a 3D printed, AI-enabled, ‘always-on’ wearable that detects threats near or far and is capable of launching countermeasures to protect soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. Essentially, we’re building J.A.R.V.I.S.” – Paul Cherukuri, Executive Director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering
India has already begun developing smart helmets with similar spatial awareness capabilities for their soldiers. The helmet features thermal imaging, night-vision, a camera, and can help soldiers identify vehicles and others in the field, able to distinguish between friend and foe via geo-tagging technology.
In the UK, researchers are beginning the process of developing smart combat helmets that can prevent hearing loss. Soldiers are exposed to a significant amount of noise at high volumes, so much so that hearing loss has become a standard occupational hazard for armed forces. To gather information, researchers have been coming up with innovative technologies to record noise levels.
Nottingham Trent University’s Advanced Textiles Research Group has developed microelectromechanical system microphones (MEMS), which are capable of measuring noise levels for extended periods of time. The idea is to integrate the devices with acoustic yarn pieces that can go over each ear in order to unobtrusively record the sound data. With this first step, prevention of hearing loss in combat helmets will soon become a reality.
The US Army has also been experimenting with smart helmets, with a heavy focus on preventing the head damage that has become typical of a soldier’s experience, namely head trauma and hearing loss. In 2017, they developed the Integrated Head Protection System (IHPS), a lightweight ballistic helmet. It functions similarly to the polyethylene Enhanced Combat Helmet that is already being used in the field, but features protective add-ons like a jaw protector and a visor. More recently, the US Army began to test a prototype helmet that is 40% lighter than the IHPS and just as strong.
South Korea develops new helmet capable of stopping stronger pistol rounds
South Korea has completed the development of an advanced helmet capable of protecting troops from stronger pistol rounds, a state defense research agency said. The new lightweight helmet is the outcome of a project that two local firms, Hyosung Corp. and Kyungchang Industry Corp., launched in 2017 to enhance the survivability and mobility of troops in battle environments, according to the Korea Research Institute for Defense Technology Planning and Advancement (KRIT).
The helmet is capable of stopping shots from 9-mm pistols and other similar weapons, and its bulletproof capability remains intact even in hot or low temperatures, or submerged underwater, according to the institute. The military plans to start supplying the helmets to armed services in the latter half of this year.
“Developed under private-military cooperation, the new bulletproof helmets are assessed to have capabilities comparable to those made by advanced countries, including the United States,” KRIT said in a press release. Materials used in the helmet can also be applied to non-military sectors, such as the production of firefighting gear, according to KRIT.
Rice University to Develop 3D Printed Smart Helmet for the Military reported in May 2022
Rice University researchers have been awarded $1.3 million by the Office of Naval Research through the Defense Research University Instrumentation Program to develop the world’s first 3D printed smart helmet for military use. For the development of the helmets, the team will use industrial-grade 3D printers.
The task force includes the labs of materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan, civil and environmental engineer and Rice Provost Reginald DesRoches, mechanical engineer Marcia O’Malley, chemist James Tour and Veeraraghavan.
The 3D printed Smart Helmet program, led by principal investigator Paul Cherukuri, executive director of Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, aims to modernize standard-issue military helmets by 3D-printing a nanomaterial-enhanced exoskeleton with embedded sensors to actively protect the brain against kinetic or directed-energy effects.
Rice will use Carbon’s L1 3D printer to create a military-grade helmet that incorporates advances in materials, image processing, artificial intelligence, haptic feedback, and energy storage. The L1 printer allows for rapid prototyping, which simplifies the process of incorporating the sensors, cameras, batteries, and wiring harnesses required by the program.
The FlatCam, a system developed by co-investigator and electrical and computer engineer Ashok Veeraraghavan and his colleagues that incorporates sophisticated image processing to eliminate the need for bulky lenses, as well as Cherukuri’s Teslaphoresis, a type of tractor beam for nanomaterials that could help create physical and electromagnetic shields inside the helmets, will be used in the Smart Helmet program.
By using a 3D-printed nanomaterial exoskeleton, each helmet can be customized for the needs of each fighter. “You can have an area that squishes very easily, or you can have more reinforcement in a specific area, and then, that is firmer,” lead design engineer Grant Belton said. The lattice structure allows computers with health sensors, infrared cameras, and thermal maps to be built right into the helmet. “So, if there is anything approaching the soldier that is a threat, the helmet will tell you that,” Cherukuri said.
The sensors, like those used now in the NFL, can tell not only if the person has suffered a concussion, but also, how severe it is – and that’s just the beginning. Electrical engineer at Rice University, Mac Carr, shows Ivanhoe the helmet and explains, “This is the Google glass. This is the actual augmented reality display. I can actually see everybody’s thermal profiles.” Four cameras give a 360 infrared view. Artificial intelligence can detect threats and is capable of launching countermeasures.
Cherukuri added, “A smart helmet task force has been assembled from some of the finest minds at Rice to tackle the challenge of creating a self-contained, intelligent system that protects the war fighter at all times. We’ve got a lot of innovative tech in university labs that has never seen the light of day. We’re simply developing that technology into a device that gives the men and women protecting our country a real chance at coming home safe and sound. This is for them.”