Commanders want to know when their soldiers are sick or tired. But, so far, there's no good, quick, objective test to figure out how they're doing.Pentagon-funded researchers think they may have found the answer, by chemically "sniffing" a soldier's breath."Human breath contains a treasure-trove of metabolic data, which has the potential to provide real time information representing an individual's baseline health status," notes a recent Defense Department Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) award, given out to the University of Tennessee.Lung health, ulcers, exposure to allergens or chemical toxins -- even stress can be picked up by sorting through the molecules we exhale, studies indicate.Johns Hopkins scientists are looking to build sensors that can instantly detect these warning signs, by combining "tunable, mid-wave IR [infrared] semiconductor laser technology and cavity-enhanced spectroscopy."Researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, on the other hand, think they can do the same job with a portable version of their "Electronic Nose Microsensor," which looks for the electrical signature of certain molecules in a gas. Altogether, five contracts were handed out recently by the Pentagon for the breath-o-meters.Not to be outdone, University of Pennsylvania scientists want to build for the Pentagon a machine that can automatically spot when a soldier gets sleepy, "captur[ing] the early signs of fatigue such as lack of concentration, yawning, changes in voice characteristics, etc." The idea is to use smart cameras and eye-safe laser scanners that can tell when a G.I. yawns or blinks. It's an approach, based on a model which has "proven to be extremely powerful in characterizing human speaker and bird voice characteristics," the Pentagon STTR award says.
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