The Apple Watch and Private Duffy – Where to Begin Thinking about Wearable Tech in the Military

With the release of the new Apple watch now seems like a good time to think about wearables in our ranks. The Apple watch represents not only a significant advancement in wearable technologies but also a potential tipping point for connected devices. In the era of the internet-of-things – wearables will be the stepping off point for a large scale commercial adoption of always on devices.

What do wearables give us?

Well, first I think the world of tech is beginning the shift away from just processors and storage to sensors and sensor integration. When we think of an iPhone or an Android device we usually imagine it as a mobile computer – but these devices are packed with sensors from the camera to their gyroscopes. As more sensors become integrated into mobile devices we’ll see a glut of new data emerge. How this data is stored, handled, transformed, manipulated, etc. will determine the range of capabilities these devices bring. Watches are the first step in this transition.

For folks in the military accustomed to tracking their location, their fitness, their teammates – the addition of a tactical wearable, similar to the new Apple watch, has a lot of appeal. For the folks managing these devices, developing the military apps, and ensuring their security – the idea of every Soldier, Sailor, Marine, and Airman carrying these devices to and from home and on and off the battlefield is a nightmare. That does not mean we can stick our heads in the sand. The smartphone revolution was phase one in a brave new world of the mobile device collective.

So how do we start?

First, the DoD needs to strongly consider how to sustain the integration of new devices in a bring-your-own-device world. Our default, due to valid security reasons, is to attempt to buy and maintain these devices ourselves so we can control the entire system from end point to data source. As improvements in mobile devices continue to increase – the three-year life cycle replacement plan will not satisfy our end users. For businesses like Apple and Google, the DoD is a very small blip in their sales – so we do not have a lot of leverage to shape how these devices are developed. Can we consider leasing devices from industry? Do we need to develop our own devices? Will we go our typical route and buy Android devices so we can then clean the OS and create our own custom security measures? I don’t have a position on this yet – but I do think the sustainability tail is what will drive the DoD and Service specific decisions.

Second, DoD policy needs to keep pace with advancements in the capabilities of wearable technologies. Right now, whomever accredits a given net owns the risk – and those folks are understandably leery about the large-scale proliferation of new mobile gadgets that may touch their networks. If we do not allow wearables to access the data our users most need then these technologies will become yet another stove-piped program of record that few will find useful. If we open the flood gates for all users then we may put the entire enterprise at risk. I believe a happy medium exists out there where the risk to the enterprise can be limited – but there is no “easy” button. In order to tamp down this risk – mobile device “demilitarized zones” could/should be established that can help monitor and control information flow to and from these devices to the broader enterprise. Designing, engineering, and maintaining these measures will not be easy nor cheap, but I believe the time has come to give it serious consideration.

Third, an increase in cross Service, cross organization, working groups looking at this subject would be valuable. I have no doubt that a number of folks within each Service branch are wrestling with this issue. While each Service does have unique use cases – there are more similarities than differences between branches. Working together on this topic has the potential to drive industry toward developing better solutions for the military.

In closing – if you are interested in collaborating on this topic please let us know and we’ll get you on our mobile device distro.

As always – the views in this piece are mine alone and do not represent the U.S. government, Department of Defense, United States Army, or any other organization with which I have had any association.

One thought on “The Apple Watch and Private Duffy – Where to Begin Thinking about Wearable Tech in the Military

  1. I see users have discovered that arm tattoos can interfere with the infrared heart rate monitor on the back of the watch. So I guess that rules out the majority of combat arms soldiers using one!!

    Interesting thoughts and great post!

    Liked by 1 person

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