NATICK, Mass. -- Women Soldiers are making invaluable contributions to our great nation, and they deserve clothing and equipment designed with them in mind.

That's the idea behind the Biometric Algorithm Monitoring Brassiere Integration, or BAMBI.
Designers at the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, are hard at work developing BAMBI, a performance brassiere that uses integrated sensing technology to transmit information on a Soldier's physiological condition. NSRDEC will use the Heat Strain Index, or HSI, Heart Rate Monitoring, or HRM, and Core Temperature Algorithms as testing guidelines for ways to detect the physiological variances that could potentially lead to heat stroke, exhaustion and fatigue.

The idea for BAMBI was spurred by NSRDEC's ongoing performance optimization research, focusing, in part, on innovative techniques for improving Soldiers' cognitive capabilities. BAMBI research and development is in its very early stages. Down the road, the data gathered through BAMBI could potentially be used to improve risk management strategies Army-wide.

BAMBI was born when Ashley Cushon, a clothing designer in the Soldier Protection and Survivability Directorate at NSRDEC, came up with the idea and submitted it as a proposal to NSRDEC's Bootstrap Initiative. Dr. Ken Desabrais, previously an NSRDEC research aerospace engineer and now NSRDEC's human protections administrator, created the initiative to encourage innovation and creativity while streamlining processes and minimizing bureaucracy.

"I heard about Bootstrap and I thought it would be a good opportunity to help meet the needs of female Soldiers," said Cushon. "During my research, I found that there is a lack of Army items tailored specifically for the female body. Female Soldiers aren't even issued an official sports bra, and the item that was once developed and intended to serve that purpose couldn't support the variety of body types found in the female Soldier population. So, I thought let's kill two birds with one stone. Let's give them something that fits well and also create a platform where we can run the same tests and analysis that previously had been done on the male majority. Let's fill that gap."

Cushon is working on a prototype.

"The short-term goal is to make sure the technology works and that it fits and functions appropriately," said Cushon. "The long-term goal is for us to create an effective female-centric platform for introducing integrated sensing technology into the Army's effort of improving Soldier and squad performance. As the device is monitoring a Soldier's heart rate, we will be analyzing the variations in beats per minute specifically. We will use algorithms developed by the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine to calculate the Soldier's core body temperature directly from heart rate. These validated algorithms will allow us to calculate and report HSI from the Soldiers' heart rate using a simple 1 to 10 scale that indicates how much heat stress the user is experiencing. The higher your core body temperature, the higher the potential for experiencing physiological stress."

During testing, in addition to wearing BAMBI, participants will also be hooked up to a Holter monitor, which is the medical standard for ECG monitoring and diagnostics. Participants will be able to monitor and track their heart rate and core body temperature via a smart phone app. Researchers will be able to not only record beats per minute, or BPM, and its variations, but analyze the data to estimate core body temperature.

"My thoughts, when approaching the design, are performance and protection focused -- how to produce an item that not only aids in protecting the female Soldier from heat-related stress, but is sure to perform as needed -- a fit that supports her in any activity," said Cushon.

Cushon will be using her background in fashion design, patterning and fit development, along with data from specific points of measure gathered during the 2012 U.S. Army Anthropometry Survey, or ANSUR II, to design, pattern, prototype and test a base-size sports bra that more accurately fits the sizing requirements of the current female Soldier. ANSUR II was conducted by NSRDEC experts and contractors, who collected 93 body measurements and three-dimensional surface scans of thousands of Soldiers across the country.

"There is a lot to consider in terms of fit and function," said Cushon. "Establishing a baseline fit before getting into the more complex details -- like the fabric types and the sensor location -- is key. No matter how simple or complicated the garment, if it doesn't fit well either it won't work properly or Soldiers won't wear it. The goal of BAMBI is to help minimize risks and improve safety. An ill-fitting garment can be as detrimental as heat stress -- specifically in areas that affect the Soldier's awareness, alertness and overall performance -- preventing them from being mission ready and jeopardizing their well-being. We don't want to give them something that's going to hinder them from performing well; we want to give them something that's going to help them perform."

By using the ANSUR II data to improve BAMBI's fit, NSRDEC's potential product will be designed to fit the diverse range of female sizing that exists in the Army population. Current commercially available sensing brassieres are not designed to accommodate this range.

"I want to emphasize the fact that the design and fit portion of the effort is going to be the most difficult," said Cushon. "Developing a female undergarment is no simple task. There's too large of a variety of body shapes and sizes to meet every need. Currently, there is no industry solution that accommodates the sizing needs of our female Soldiers. That's why the ANSUR II data is so crucial to this process. I think once we develop that median size we will be able to build from there, providing something specifically tailored for them. Afterwards, we can down-select the best materials and components to keep the device comfortable and effective as a method for data collection."
By using the ANSUR II data, designers can work to establish a true Army specific median size.
Cushon is dedicated to working on ideas that enhance Soldier performance, and she hopes to open up discussion with warfighters, as well as other researchers, about the creation of more female-centric items.

"I want to continue to contribute to that narrative in a way that possibly has a long-term effect," said Cushon. "It's so important. Depending on the item, there are times we have to start with designs built to male dimensions and resize them for females. BAMBI is an opportunity to start with the female Soldier in mind. We have to stay aware of what they want and need. That's why interacting and communicating with Soldiers is so important. As the science behind sensing and textile technology continues to advance, so do our opportunities to improve what we can do to help the Soldier. Working here at NSRDEC and seeing how something that starts as a concept in your mind can go from being 2D to 3D to being in the hands of the Soldier is incredible. They are sacrificing so much to protect and sustain the life that we know -- it's humbling to be able to give back in any capacity."