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Micro-electric Technology for Respiratory Protection Systems


OBJECTIVE: Design and develop micro-electric devices suitable for integration into a face or helmet mounted respiratory protective system. DESCRIPTION: Military respirators used for protection against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear (CBRN) threat agents currently have no means to reduce heat and moisture burden associated with prolonged respirator wear. Traditional powered air-purifying blower systems used to supply clean breathing air can offer significant evaporative cooling and other benefits, such as lens defogging, but are not suitable for integration due to their excessive weight, bulk, and power requirements. Similarly, state-of-the-art technologies for vapor-compression heat pumps and thermoelectric devices are too large, heavy and/or power-hungry for practical application; and passive technology for heat and moisture adsorption such as phase change materials, wicking materials, and heat pipes has proven ineffective. Innovative micro-electric systems with sensor feedback technologies are sought to improve comfort and performance of military respirators while minimizing size, weight and power demand in order to make them practical for military use. Specific example applications include but are not limited to: (1) anti-fog management that provides rapid clearing of eye lenses including high work rates in basic cold conditions (see MIL-STD-810G, 31 Oct 2008); (2) air-management solutions including on-demand miniature blowers and humidity control devices that can generate sufficient airflow (e.g. 20 to 30 Liters/min, minimum) and low-power requirements (e.g. less than 5 watts); (3) breathing-air management systems to maintain proper air quality (i.e. proper oxygen and carbon dioxide levels) and extend mission range/time of respirators for high-hazard environments that include Self-Contained Breathing Apparatuses (SCBA) and Closed-Circuit (CC) SCBA configurations; (4) breathing and thermal management systems responsive to physiological monitoring. The devices must be intrinsically safe, hygienic, durable, and easy to clean. The devices should be able to be integrated with the existing military or applicable commercial respirators, should be lightweight (less than 50 grams), and should not degrade or otherwise adversely impact the vision or the flexibility and sealing quality (e.g., fit or protection factor performance) of the mask. The devices and components, including their housings, must be rugged and able to withstand a wide range of temperature and environmental extremes. PHASE I: Develop an innovative micro-electric system and demonstrate the feasibility of designing and fabricating a"bread-board"system. Demonstrate robustness of the control system to sense the targeted environmental and/or physiological states and maintain the desired performance over the targeted range of operational conditions. Demonstrate that the device can be miniaturized and meet power demand objectives. Produce an objective prototype design and estimate, size, weight, power demand, cost, and net benefit of the production item. PHASE II: Refine and optimize Phase I bread-board micro-electric system. Characterize prototype performance using a suitable respirator system as a test bed. Optimize test bed performance and demonstrate the micro-electric system(s) by assessing and validating performance under an operational relevant range of external environmental (temperature/humidity) conditions, in-mask heat/humidity loads, and operationally relevant breathing rates. Develop and demonstrate that the devices including sensors, processing, power and communications can be miniaturized where total weight of the entire system to include housing and electronics should not exceed 50 grams. Demonstrate the technology can quickly identify repeated changes in conditions occurring in the same region. Develop ability to store baseline conditions acquired during wear and that data can be communicated for external monitoring and analysis. Develop and demonstrate technology to warn user of changing conditions and/or differences from the baseline. Provide pre-production prototypes of respirators with embedded micro-electric technology. Demonstrate the feasibility of these sensors to be miniaturized and to operate in temperature and moisture extremes. PHASE III: Fully integrate solution into a military CBRN-protective respirator system. Optimize fabrication process to demonstrate large-scale production capabilities and to demonstrate ability of technology to be incorporated into multiple mask systems. Demonstrate the ability to commercialize the technology and establish partners to expand commercialization. PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: Potential alternative applications include industrial, international, and commercial respiratory protection systems (e.g., firefighting helmets, HAZMAT response ensembles, etc.).
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