US intelligence wants high-tech access to the most prodigious sensor of all: Humans

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity wants to know: What is really possible with wearable devices?

Your government wants to know exactly what applications are possible as wearable devices with all manner of sensors become more entrenched in our daily lives.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) which falls under the auspices of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, last week issued a Request For Information that looks into how wearable devices that offer “direct and persistent sensing of an individual and their local social and physical environment” can be used to better help monitor everything from your personal environment to health situations.


“Of specific interest are potential advancements in sensing capabilities that enable accurate, continuous measurement with devices that are relatively imperceptible to the user and seamlessly integrated with their daily activities,” IARPA said of its program entitled Future Applications of Sensing Technologies for Fidelitous Wearable Devices or FASTFWD.

IARPA wrote on FASTFWD: Recent trends in the development of sensing capabilities for commercial wearables have been largely evolutionary with many new devices incorporating added features and new design, but still relying on accelerometers, gyroscopes, and GPS to infer activity based on movement. Despite this relatively narrow focus, ongoing research suggests there are many more signals and features to be captured and extracted by sensors that can be easily and comfortably worn throughout the day.

However, in all cases there are concerns about the accuracy of existing sensors and the actions and behaviors they purport to measure which only serve to highlight the relatively smallbut growingbody of research and researchers actively examining signal fidelity across a range of activities and conditions. By developing these pockets of promising research and development into valid, accurate sensing capabilities, the benefits of novel wearable devices are potentially far-reaching for a variety of personal, professional, and scientific uses. Rapid development of this pipeline may yield innovative, and potentially disruptive, sensing capabilities for future wearable devices.

IARPA said anyone responding to its request should address five key points.

  1. Respondents should assume that computing, communication, and battery technology will advance at historical rates, enabling a device with the following characteristics:
  • Persistent battery life, processing power, and transmitter functionality and speed that enables continuous sampling and near real-time feedback to the user;
  • Comfortable enough to be imperceptible to the wearer throughout waking hours and during sleep;
  • Ergonomic design and size that does not obstruct normal movement, circulation, respiration, ingestion, digestion, neural function, social dynamics, or other activities and processes;
  • Space for single or multiple sensors; and,
  • Durability and robust to some environmental conditions (e.g. temperature, moisture) and large impacts or forces.
  1. What signatures will the sensor(s) measure? Responses should describe the function of the proposed new or advanced sensor(s), to include what signals and specific features will be measured, how these will be captured, and other specifications, as necessary.
  2. What is the purpose of measuring the proposed signatures? This should include the broad areas of application, as well as specific behaviors or states of the individual wearer, others that might be in their social and physical environment, as well as the actual environment around them. Also, what is the benefit of using a wearable sensor that is not afforded by more standard or traditional methods used to measure the proposed signatures for the general and specific applications proposed?
  3. How would testing and validation be conducted? Consider the methods, environments, control conditions or “gold standard” techniques necessary to establish the accuracy of the proposed sensing capability for the specific application described in the response.
  4. What are the theoretical and/or practical limitations? Responses may discuss limitations in the context of what sensors can be worn, the signatures they are designed to measure, specific applications, and/or testing and validation.

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Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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