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Battlefield black boxes track soldiers via satellite

Space Industry

A matchbox-sized sensor is being developed to track the movement and performance of soldiers on the battlefield.

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The Australian Department of Defence has awarded AU$700,000 to two technologies companies – Myriota in South Australia and New Zealand’s IMeasureU – to come up with the equivalent of a black box recorder known as the ‘Fight Recorder’.

Myriota, based in the South Australian capital Adelaide, will use a constellation of low earth orbit satellites with global connectivity to communicate with a wearable device that’s very small and lightweight, very low power and has a long battery life.

Auckland-based IMeasureU builds solutions for elite athletes that provide insights into training, performance and rehabilitation.

“It’s like what an elite athlete might wear to record what they’re doing for performance analysis and improving systems and help design better equipment and protective wear going forward,” Myriota Chief Executive Alex Grant said.

“Myriota’s part of this project is about the data connectivity of retrieving that information from the field, which is what we specialise in.”

“There’s also a beacon aspect in case something goes wrong and alongside that is the ability to capture data from what the wearer is doing for reconstructing events and looking at the human performance aspects offline.”

The two-year project aims to develop and demonstrate a proof of concept. Dr Grant said if that proved successful a “fully fledged” product could be developed.

He said the product, believed to be the first of its kind in the world and which beat out 45 other contenders to win the funding, could then potentially be rolled out to allied defence forces.

One of Myriota’s small sensors. Picture: Ben McPherson.

“I think there are also opportunities in other areas alongside defence where there are similar problems, such as emergency services,” Dr Grant said.

“It may not be military situation but there’s a similar human performance under stress type of situation and a need for a beacon type of technology.”

The project will also involve researchers from Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTO) at Edinburgh, north of Adelaide, and Fishermen’s Bend in Melbourne.

Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne announced the funding from the Federal Government’s Next Generation Technologies Fund today.

He said the wearable device aimed to capture valuable data on the battlefield and would reduce the time taken to reach and treat battlefield casualties.

“Survival rates for battlefield casualties are closely tied to response times and the Fight Recorder will enable Defence to quickly locate and treat casualties,” Pyne said.

“In addition to serving as a location beacon, the data captured by the Fight Recorder could be used to inform the design and performance of soldier equipment and protective wear.”

Myriota began conducting commercial trials of its low-cost satellite communications technology last year and has initially focused in commercial markets such as agriculture, utilities, environmental monitoring and freight logistics asset tracking.

“This is a good example of something that’s been developed for smart farming and to position agriculture and then those characteristics have driven the development of something in the area of defence,” Dr Grant said.

“The Internet of Things is still such a broad area that we are seeing new applications like this come online as people start appreciating the implications of having global connectivity, long battery life and a price point that enables those new applications.

“We’re seeing it daily and we’re talking to prospective customers of new use cases and applications that are really enabled by this new technology.”

The 2017 International Astronautical Congress – the year’s biggest global meeting of the space industry – will be held this month in Myriota’s home city of Adelaide.

Myriota will be part of a South Australian Government exhibition stand at the conference along with 10 other local space start-ups.

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