The Wearable Technology Revolution Promises Interesting Applications for Homeland Security

The consumer market is once again in the driver’s seat in the adoption of wearable technology as it was with BYOD and mobile. And when it comes to homeland security, wearable tech shows true potential. But the security and defense industries have traditionally been slower to adopt these new technologies, so just how andwhen will wearables make an impact?

The growing acceptance is that wearable devices will be the next form of consumer technology to go mainstream. Google has pulled the covers off the much anticipated Android Wear project, and with the impending arrival of the "iWatch,” it looks as if the predictions from Gartner that the market will be worth $10 billion by just 2016 may come true.

As noted by R. "Ray" Wang, principal analyst and chairman of Constellation Research, Inc., "Wearables are a natural extension in the promise of mobility and create new opportunities for A&D … This convergence of material science and computing provides new disruptive business models and an opportunity to begin digital transformation initiatives."

So the question must be asked – just where does the value lie in wearable technology for use in homeland security applications?

The unique challenge in homeland security

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a vast organization encompassing some huge departments, from the US Coast Guard and Transport Security Administration (TSA) to the Secret Service. Therefore, a unique challenge is faced when it comes to inter-communicating between different departments to help ensure the United States and its borders remain secure.

This is where technology – and in particular technology which is user-friendly such as wearables – offers the potential to make a real difference. Wearables provide essential context-aware capabilities through accurate reporting of information which is attained in real-time. In this way, wearable applications are able to provide the best possible information to the user when and where they need it.

Enabling you to go the ‘last yard

Organizations such as DHS have made, and will continue to make, large IT investments in order to support their business. Vital to that business are the people in the field. Historically, IT investments have done much more for the in-house portion of the organization. Wearable technology enables organizations to further leverage their significant IT investment into the area of the business which will have the greater return: The “tooth of the tiger” – the people in the field.

Let’s look at an event such as a hurricane. This requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) within DHS to know where all their assets are at any given time, and then decide how best to deploy them. This is where wearable technology offers really powerful support.

As a result of such an event, there will be flooding, injuries, destruction of buildings and a host of other obstacles that would be difficult to overcome with current traditional technology. Having the information on the wrist of personnel would allow them to remain unhindered when carrying out actions on the ground while also providing them – and central services – with the vital information that is needed to manage their unique situation.

At IFS, we are already trialing this sort of application based on the Samsung Gear 2 smart watch as a proof-of-concept with our R&D team at IFS Labs, where this wearable technology is being used to not only read data, but also make transactions, send alerts for certain processes and receive important notifications in real-time.

These sort of applications, integrated into wearable technology, could enable better decisions by providing the “Last Yard.”

Mobility but not as we know it

Wearable technology is actually not a new concept. Departments have been using radios and microphones for decades to communicate, but they have always been limited by having to use laptops and other computer systems within their vehicles as their “window to the back office.” Hardware such as Google Glass could provide this functionality and gives personnel in the field a level of mobility that they’ve never had before.

Such technology could also allow specialists away from the event to see and analyze what is happening. These specialists would traditionally have to rely on information that is being fed to them as and when it becomes available, whereas with wearables, they will be able to see exactly what is going on and respond more quickly and more appropriately than ever before.

All this combined could provide DHS with the opportunity to achieve better, more accurate reporting from an event, not only of what needs addressing, but also how they were addressed. It could also provide DHS with the power to learn from mistakes, enabling them to anticipate future events and how to react to them better.

But how likely is adoption of wearable technology in this environment? We see three key drivers in the adoption of wearables.

1. Civilian and agent safety

In homeland security, the safety of civilians is always paramount. In a practical sense, wearable technology can significantly enhance safety in what can often be complex situations. Put simply, staff are able to have both hands free. The technology leaves no trailing cables and devices are not plugged into anything if they have to move quickly.

Handing wearable capabilities to an agent can ensure safety of civilians on a larger scale. Equipment or logistics situations can be scanned and the images fed directly to a specialist to evaluate risk. Essential equipment malfunctions can be addressed directly by engineers to the agent on the ground, providing a much more agile response to a changing tactical situation.

2. Usability is key

Wearable technology must be able to meld seamlessly into the user’s everyday actions without being compromised. So, while having information in real-time is extremely valuable, it also is important to remember that any wearable technology must not hinder theuser physically in any way.

A nuclear event or flood response is certainly not an easy place to be, and robustness, reliability and ease of use are all key factors to help ensure user safety, so wearables on the market today may be an interesting concept, particularly for the homeland security support domains, but I don’t think they’re quite up to the challenge in more hostile environments just yet!

3. Improving MRO efficiency in asset supply chain

There is also significant potential for integrating wearable technology into the asset supply chain and maintenance and repair operations for DHS. For example, we could see personnel using wearable technology to immediately understand what is needed in a given situation, such as whether an asset needs repairing with the option to automatically initiate the required support. During an event, chembio sensors on-person could transmit status through wearable devices. Assets that have been rendered incapacitated and therefore no longer available could be quickly identified. Alternative asset configurations could then be set up or optimized in order to best meet the threat.

Instant information availability combined with accurate data capture in this 2-way interactive process can remove multiple unnecessary steps and could significantly increase efficiency in operations.

It’s a behavior changer

The key to the use of any advanced technology is the importance of creating a sustained behavior. In a white paper from supply chain consultants Endeavour, they outlined “The 9 Baseline Criteria” needed to drive initial adoption and utilization of wearable technology. What is highly evident is that real life adoption of wearables requires behavioral changes from the user.

Research has shown consumers can get bored with wearable technology within months of ownership,and the white paper cited a US example where one-third of American consumers stopped using specific wearable technology within six months.

Education and habit formation are the key issues here. If wearers know the technology could enhance their daily activities, then they are more likely to adapt to it. Continued use makes the technology “natural” and something the user feels they cannot do their job without. Other workers then see this as the norm and have a social motivation to then adopt the technology themselves — the result being wearable technology blends into the everyday and becomes less alien.

But how will this develop?

Over the next few years, I think wearable technology will reinvent the working day across many different industries – from nurses and office workers to deep sea oil rig engineers – but the key to success, particularly in homeland security, is to ensure the technology focuses on the end user’s requirements.

Any “new” technology has to reduce complexity and workload for the users, and wearable technology must deliver on this. Let’s hope we see DHS embrace this revolutionary technology to deliver on business needs and help move wearable technology from simply being the latest technology “in fashion” to an effective mainstream solution.

Kevin Deal is responsible for all aspects of IFS in aerospace and defense within North America and has been in the A&D IT business for over 25 years. Prior to joining IFS, he was director of Mid-Americas and Federal at BroadVision, and director of national sales at Cincom. Deal was also a logistics war modeler and former director of DoD’s Supportability Investment Decision Analysis Center.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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