From Nov. 30 through Dec. 5, the U.S. Military Academy centered two research efforts on technology to gather important data with USMA cadets and U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School cadet candidates as the primary targets while other USMA personnel voluntarily participated.
Approximately 1,300 personnel were issued the Garmin Fenix 6 watch and Oura Ring between Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Haig Room at Jefferson Library. The watch and ring in the RATE study collect individual physiological data to determine when a person is getting sick.
The two efforts studied are the Rapid Analysis of Threat Exposure (RATE) study and the Limited User Test (LUT) with information being compiled over the next few months from each data gathering. The RATE study is sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and is supported by the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Defense (JPEO CBRND). The LUT is sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Acquisitions, Logistics, Technology) with the USMA CIO/G6, USMA G3, U.S. Corps of Cadets S3, the Office of the Dean operations and USMAPS working together to help field the results.
Both programs are meant to inform future Department of the Army and Department of Defense systems development to improve force protection, and the hope is the feedback from the devices will drive improvement and system evolution.
The purpose of the RATE study is to collect data to inform the RATE algorithm. The anonymized data is sent via a participant’s cellphone; however, it doesn’t rely on the participants being at West Point, said Col. Edward Teague, USMA CIO/G6.
“The RATE tracker leverages physiological monitoring data from the wearable devices (Garmin Fenix 6S + 6S Pro watch and Oura Ring) to recognize non-obvious infection related changes in a person’s health status,” said Phillip Harman, JPEO CBRND lead systems engineer. “It delivers the individual a risk score indicating the degree of possible exposure to infectious agents, to include chemical and biological agents, to enable individuals and their organizations to act proactively to better manage health amid infectious agents.”
However, since COVID-19 is at the forefront of everyone’s minds and the hypothesis of the RATE device is it may provide a warning up to 48 hours before an individual becomes symptomatic by monitoring one’s body changes.
Harman said that the RATE device collects data and monitors details such as heart rate variations, blood oxygen/oxygenation levels, pulse and temperature variations to determine if someone is on the onset of getting sick within those 48 hours.
“The overall goal of the RATE study is to assess a newly developed technology that promises to provide our cadets and warfighters with additional protection from infectious disease,” Dr. Ken Wickiser, Associate Dean for Research and Professor of Biochemistry, said. “If we determine that this system is capable of warning a teammate that he or she might be infected prior to them feeling the normal symptoms of an infection, then we will be able to control the threat of contagions while increasing the readiness of the force.
“Through the use of these commercially available rings and watches, we collect normal data streams such as skin temperature, heart rate and breathing rate,” Wickiser, who is the principal investigator of the effort, said. “The beauty of systems like RATE and LUT is that they don’t rely on expensive, custom-designed tools for the warfighter; these devices can be purchased by anyone with a credit card and a connection to the internet. For us to really put the system to the test, we will have to observe verified cases of various infections. We believe the winter season will provide us the opportunity to monitor the onset and recovery of infections within the West Point population.”
The RATE study is a multi-site operation, which includes participation by the U.S. Naval Academy and other services and is approved by the Air Force Research Laboratory Institutional Review Board and USMA’s Human Research and Legal teams. The RATE research will conclude in April.
For two days, Dec. 4-5 in Eisenhower Hall, the majority of cadets received the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 for the Limited User Test for proximity logging to help force protection support traditional contact tracing.
Proximity logging is a technology that records the time when two or more similar devices are near each other and the distance between them. Contact tracing is currently a resource-intensive process used by healthcare professionals to prevent the spread of infectious disease. Coupled together, logging and tracing, which is part of the study’s basis, may change the dynamic of limiting infections in the future.
“The projected outcome of this study is an assessment of the usefulness and accuracy of the RATE algorithm and its ability to analyze the data from these devices in near-real time to give an indication of the probability a teammate has been infected,” Wickiser said. “We hope that by early this coming summer, we will have the confidence to inform the Department of Defense whether this system should be pursued and developed across the force. Both LUT and RATE fit squarely within (Superintendent) Lt. Gen. (Darryl A.) Williams’ force protection priority and the entire team is hopeful that novel tools and strategies will help us refine our procedures to keep our community healthy and safe.”
The device is considered a uniform-issued item to be worn daily while the LUT is active. The device will begin its activity during the Army-Navy Game when there are approximately 8,800 cadets and midshipmen at Michie Stadium.
LUT participants will use the wearable device when physically on West Point while performing official duties, e.g., official travel as mission allows. In all other situations, wearing the LUT device is optional for participants.
The goal of the study is to determine whether the wearable device can help prevent the community spread of COVID-19 and provide rapid, accurate and precise proximity logging to other device wearers. This in turn will provide a platform for future capability growth.
“The LUT is assessing a secure framework that can collect the proximity logging data now but could also be the foundation of an enterprise approach to securely collect Soldier health data that can be used to help protect Soldiers in the future,” said Steven C. Hart, systems engineer for ASA(ALT’s) Chief Technology Office. “In the future, this type of secure data transmission construct could enable human performance or medical data to be assessed and acted upon to ensure Soldier health and performance.”
The LUT requires high-density deployment to receive meaningful data feedback. After USMA finishes its participation, DOD will take the findings from the data collected from the LUT and then create a hybrid solution for consideration to roll out and expand to several U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and Forces Command units.
The cadet participants also have the option to add apps, connect the device to their phone and use the device to track their fitness.
“The cadets enjoy having a daily detailed analysis of their exercise regimen including their sleep and rest levels, which we know so many young students and warfighters struggle with today,” Wickiser said.
When appropriately configured, the watch can determine how long the wearer has been in close proximity to other LUT participants. Anyone wearing the device that a user has come within six feet of for longer than 15 minutes in a 24-hour period will be tracked as a potential candidate for infection in the event of a COVID-19 positive test result.
The watch represents a system of systems providing Team COVID and USMA leadership data-driven logs to enhance contact tracing. The LUT technology will rapidly and, more completely, map who should be isolated, quarantined or tested after the discovery of a COVID-19 positive cadet.
“We feel the two efforts will play a central role in the future of infectious disease management. If RATE performs as promised, it would reduce the burden of contact tracing significantly by providing an individual notice that she or he may be infected earlier on in the disease cycle,” Wickiser said. “LUT, on the other hand, will provide the traditional contact tracing team a more detailed and accurate account of who an infected teammate was nearby while he or she may have been contagious.
“So, if the systems are found to work well, it would be easy to see how together they would provide a more robust response to infectious disease while providing the commander a clearer picture of the threat,” he added.
The information relayed on the watch is proximal, meaning actual GPS coordinates are not sent. Data collected is anonymized like the RATE research. Team COVID will have a key to ID and contact cadets in the event of an infection and if follow-on tracing actions become necessary.
The LUT testing is operational for the next two months until February. Overall, cadets and cadet candidates will participate in either program, but not both.
Ultimately, the hope is that the information gathered from both efforts will help be a game-changer to limiting the number of people contracting sickness, such as COVID-19, in the future in dense populations such as academy environments and deployed units.
“The Army is focused on the readiness and well-being of Soldiers,” Wickiser said. “Technology being able to address those needs quickly, inexpensively and consistently is of great value to the leadership. We hope to assess the technology behind the LUT and RATE to provide our leaders a clearer understanding of what might augment our current tool kit in the fight against infectious disease.”