Defense Department Funds Wearables To Detect COVID-19

As many countries across the globe begin loosening their stay-at-home orders, we’re seeing government agencies and large companies prepare for the lasting effects of the pandemic. A recent solicitation from the United States Department of Defense (DoD) indicates they are investing $25 million into wearable devices that can detect early signs of COVID-19.

Based on a few details from the request for project proposals, it looks like the DoD is targeting mostly companies in this particular solicitation, but have left the door open for academic institutions as well. That makes intuitive sense. Companies can generally operate at a faster pace than most academic research labs. Given the urgency of the matter, faster turnarounds in technological development are imperative. Nonetheless, we have seen quite a bit of important COVID-19 work coming from academic research labs and we imagine that battling this pandemic will take all the brilliant minds we can muster together.

It’s good to see the DoD join the fight in what could be a lengthy battle with the coronavirus.

Please feel free to read through the request for project proposals for more details.

10 thoughts on “Defense Department Funds Wearables To Detect COVID-19

  1. “investing $25 million”
    Is that a lot of money for a soldier, or a poorly timed joke?
    That will only buy you a lot of party clowns who can’t do math.

    Noone can save people from themselves…

  2. “Companies can generally operate at a faster pace than most academic research labs”

    Actually a very fine example on how repeating some unfounded outrageous claim over and over again can turn it into a meme.

    1. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on this. After working in academia and starting a company, this has definitely been my personal experience and that of many of my colleagues. Care to elaborate? I tried to soften my stance by saying “generally” as opposed to “universally” or something similar.

    2. That depends on the particular subject and where they want to be at the end of the day.

      Academia is mired in committees, administrative overburden, review of publications, the vagaries of student labor, and grant uncertainty which is good if you’re doing true exploratory research, which most companies won’t bother with because there’s no high probability of financial gain. Academia suffers terribly in that it has no real capacity to develop ideas much beyond the prototype state, and most of the intellectual property infrastructure is very, very bad.

      Most commercialization attempts from academia don’t do very well, often because a technically good idea will have a poor business model, a misunderstanding of the market or undercapitalization. When the institution, personnel, market demand and capital requirements line up, the results are ground-shifting (Google, for instance)

      Companies do excel at achieving a defined goal and producing a defined product, preferably over a reasonably short time period as most of the time they’re subject to continuing pressure to be profitable. If you want a bunch of jets built to meet market demand, that (and the engineering and research to put it all together) can happen. From those leaps, cost engineering, and the easy choice of line extension over innovation drives things in strange ways and often to a bad end, as the 737 Max debacle has illustrated.

      Sadly, attempts to do creative things on the industrial side can lose badly as Dyson’s electric car – technically very good, but commercially not viable – have illustrated. Market shifting innovations can happen as well – go back to the introduction of the iPhone for an example.

      At the end of the day, the statement “Companies can generally operate at a faster pace than most academic research labs” is true, but those companies generally operate in a very linear and goal-metric fashion and only if there’s a hefty financial reward waiting at the end. Academia can innovate quickly and endlessly, but Darwin (and sometimes Kafka) take over from there and most of the ideas don’t move into practice for some time (if at all).

      1. I agree with all these points. Full disclosure, I aspire to be a professor at a research institution. I’m hoping to consult with companies on the side as a scientific advisor. I wonder how the OP will respond to your comment.

        1. Also, I would like to remind the OP of my follow-up point. Just so everyone knows I’m not discrediting innovation emerging from academia. LOL.

          “Nonetheless, we have seen quite a bit of important COVID-19 work coming from academic research labs and we imagine that battling this pandemic will take all the brilliant minds we can muster together.”

    3. In my experience, though it has been over a decade since I was entangled with academia, is that most, which implies not all, academic labs only function at about a 3 day work week equivalent. This is because the principals are lecturing, mentoring, presenting papers, doing other random grant paperwork and writeups etc. Whether they be profs or grad students. Undergrads may get involved for periods also, but have full course loads so it’s like two half days. However, they may kick into nearly full time over the summer academic break. July, August, most of September. Labs set up as for profit ventures or commercial partnerships will however have more full time staff, supplemented by the academic “pop-ins”. However as with the other labs, they have stuff they’re meant to be doing already, they’re not sitting around waiting to be handed tasks.

    4. Yeah, this is pure ideology. There’s no reason to believe this if you aren’t a libertarian zealot, which people high up in tech usually are. Funnily enough, it suits their own interests too. Imagine that!

  3. I’ve worked at a range of scientific, academic, and commercial research organizations in my career.

    Big science and academia is full of scientists on soft funding who view the world as a zero sum game for brilliance, and they are out to protect their personal brand of infallibility every single day. There is no room for collaboration, only publishing rights. It’s a dog eat dog world riddled with irreproducible “experiments” and towering hero facades. The better scientists learn this early on and double down or leave for commercial interests where they can be successful. Very little of science is left standing in an organization after the puffery retires or gets promoted. The durable vestiges are rare and precious.

    Big academia is full of those who like to dabble in this and that and rarely have the stamina to take things to a relevant, comprehensive, useful conclusion. They view the world through a narrow tunnel of funding with none of the risk taking judgments that are needed to succeed commercially. They generally fritter away to irrelevance.

    Commercial interests are all about trying and developing new things, but efforts eventually get swallowed by capture of corporate leadership let by B-school bros with little stamina or intelligence in the focus of product development. Companies that balance technical and financial prowess succeed. Most do not, and are buried by arbitrage and business failure in the end.

    Those rare opportunities where great, relevant ideas to meet real needs are matched with the stamina and intelligence of all of the above and funded by a strong financial vision are more likely to succeed. This happens very rarely in academia.

  4. “It’s good to see the DoD join the fight”

    -A sentence that should never be uttered. Am I the only one who doesn’t want them involved in literally anything? It’s insanely suspicious for them to start working on some tracking wearables that they will no doubt try to obligate everyone to wear in some way. We’re going through another 9/11-style collective fugue state right now. Everybody has suspended their senses, focused ENTIRELY on the single current problem (and only a very narrow scope of that problem btw) and is willing to make rash decisions that don’t consider potential drawbacks or future consequences whatsoever. And we’re willing to trust the shadiest organizations in the damn world to become our savior. Why do you think they are sincere when they say they want to help you?! They have shown us who they are over and over and over for decades. It’s pitiful. We fall for this every single time.

    Alphabet or whatever and the DoD should never collaborate on anything. The fact that they are the ones immediately champing at the bit to create COVID solutions and tracking systems should be incredibly alarming to anyone. You aren’t somehow virtuous for entertaining these kinds of schemes; they aren’t “saving lives.” That’s the same incoherent jingoism that you hear from Silicon Valley when they say they’re saving the world with apps or whatever. They aren’t. They’re making money and locking down dissent, that’s the twin mission of private tech and US defense and intelligence agencies. They’re taking advantage of your fear and desperation. They’re exploiting the moment with inhuman opportunism and cynicism. It’s what they do, what they’ve always done. Get a grip!

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