Helmets are simple pieces of equipment with a singular function: to protect the wearer’s head. So when it comes to increasing safety capabilities, helmets are ripe for such improvement. Already, we are seeing smart helmets pop up for use in recreational activities like biking and motorcycling. But in particular, soldiers would benefit greatly from the development of smart helmets. Smart helmets would be greatly beneficial in helping prevent serious brain damage and hearing loss, two of the most prevalent dangers for soldiers.
Smart helmets for recreational use, such as biking or motorcycling, have adopted a number of safety capabilities that could be carried over to smart combat helmets. High-end helmet designs have even boasted 360 degrees of visibility, achieved by rear-facing cameras. For soldiers on the battlefield, this would greatly increase spatial awareness and help soldiers avoid danger. A popular feature of smart helmets also includes built-in navigation systems — for soldiers, always being aware of your position is another way to increase awareness and overall safety when in treacherous environments.
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.
While particular areas of smart helmet features are being improved upon individually, it is only a matter of time before we see a form of protective headgear that combines these capabilities. In only a few years’ time, soldiers may have access to helmets that have increased protective capabilities for both hearing and physical damage, as well as heightened awareness technology. When this happens, soldiers will be much safer when operating in the field.