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Proving Ground Tests DoD's Digital Dog Tags

By Staff Sgt. Alicia K. Borlik
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 29, 1998 – Stuck to the sweaty chest of a soldier humping through a hot, humid jungle or subjected to sub-zero temperatures in an Arctic ice storm -- DoD's new digital dog tag will have to brave these varied conditions and more.

DoD has been working for nearly a decade on a suitable personal information carrier -- a high-tech "digital dog tag" containing a member's full or partial medical history. One of the seven candidate devices being tortured now may someday hang from the neck of every service member.

The latest stage of testing began June 15 at the Army Electronic Proving Ground at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., said Maj. Catherine Beck. She handles hardware acquisition as acting chief of the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center's Information Science Division, Medical Research Materiel Command.

Technicians test the tags in the proving ground's environmental testing facility, Beck said. The scheduled 60 days of tests include subjecting the devices to temperatures ranging from 158 degrees to minus 67 degrees. And air pressure and altitude tests simulating 400 meters below mean sea level to 15,000 meters above. And dust. And wind. And humidity. And mechanical shock. And immersion in water. And freezing rain.

Not only must the dog tags withstand these factors, they must pass other military standards for storage capacity, data access speeds and compatibility with other defense computer systems, Beck said. Most carriers use PC Card slot adapters and can be read in Microsoft Windows NT, she added.

The eventual winner has to be small and light. Beck said it also must be scalable, meaning its abilities can grow as the military's needs increase over time. Another big factor, she said, is ease of use, such as the parts and accessories needed and how many steps it requires to operate.

Test results will be passed to Beck when completed and will be used to develop a request for proposal outlining certain military specifications. The request for proposal should be on the street by October, Beck said. After a 45-day bidding period for vendors, DoD will choose candidates for a second set of tests, she added.

Actual field testing, slated for fiscal 1999, will involve 30,000 troops across the services, Beck said. Test sites have not been determined.

If a clear winner emerges, it someday will replace some or all of a member's paper medical records, Beck said. Data could include imagery and video and sound recordings. Medical personnel will use portable computers to read the tags and update them as necessary.

The dog tag won't be the service member's only medical history record. A copy of the information will be stored in a consolidated database so information can be restored if a tag is lost or damaged.

Since 1994, active duty personnel in Hawaii have received credit card-sized devices embedded with computer chips that can hold limited military information, Beck said. The card has been used in several military exercises and proved adequate for readiness processing, manifesting, personnel accountability and food service.

Due to their limited capacity, the cards held only minimal medical data, she added. The search for a new device with larger storage capacity began in 1995.

In 1996, DoD and Data-Disk Technology Inc., developed the Medi-Tag, a 10-megabyte storage prototype. The tag also seemed more durable and stable than the previous card, and it could hold any type of data, Beck explained. Its success showed DoD might make use of other off-the-shelf products with far larger storage capacity. Some of the devices being tested at Huachuca can store up to 340 megabytes of data, and they range in size from a dime to a credit card.

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageSix of the seven personal information carriers -- "digital dog tags" -- being tested at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., are pictured. The devices range in size from a dime to a credit card. Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Center photo  
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