Researchers working on first printable smart helmet for the military

Researchers are working to modernize the standard issue military helmets, using the latest technology to save lives on the battlefield.

HOUSTON (Ivanhoe Newswire) – 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.

While many of us watched the action unfold on the big screen, U.S. Army retired veteran, Kaz Karwowski lived through it on the ground in Somalia during a firefight between U.S. troops and armed fighters.

“In Black Hawk Down, the person to my left of me got hurt then, the person to my right got hurt. I happened to just be in the right place at the right time at that point,” Karwowski remembers.

But not every soldier is so lucky, and that’s why engineers at Rice University are working on the first printable smart helmet.

“We employed the carbon printer to be able to print a very lightweight, strong material and then integrate our electronics into it,” said Paul Cherukuri, professor at the Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering at Rice University.

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.

“It’s the future and we’re trying to bring it forward,” Cherukuri said.

This project is being funded by the U.S. Navy. Right now, the helmet is just a prototype. All of the cameras and sensors will fit inside a normal-sized helmet. They hope the technology will be ready for testing in the field by the end of the year.