A group of soldiers in far upstate New York are performing a vital role in wearables development. U.S. Army soldiers with the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division are engaged in a yearlong study with a combination of three devices: a smartwatch, a smart ring, and heart rate monitor, according to the Army’s publication Army.mil.

From the military’s viewpoint, the study’s purpose is to measure human performance to assess the effects of physical training. The MASTR-E program (Measuring and Advancing Soldier Tactical Readiness and Effectiveness) assesses many data points, including physical exertion, training load, sleep, and recovery. According to George Matook, MASTR-E program manager for U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, the devices monitor resting heart rate, body temperature changes, sleep cycles, and activity levels. That list sounds like a typical load for a decent smartwatch, but Matook says the application goes further and can also screen for infection and illness. Another way to view the MASTR-E is athlete management software that pulls data from the devices and uses the data to analyze the effects of training, according to Matook.

The soldier participants volunteered for this research. The program leaders encourage the participants to wear the devices all the time. The data collected from the devices in the participants’ full range of activities, in and out of training, helps the individuals and the researchers observe the effect of all activities on the subjects’ performance and wellbeing. As the study continues, the research group finds it can learn from collected data — sometimes after the fact — about how individuals performed relative to different circumstances, tasks, and behaviors.

The MASTR-E may be unique in that it is employing multiple devices to track a variety of biometrics and learning as they go about ways to use the technology to discover new insights from the data. This is in contrast with most technology developments that we cover; they typically start with a specific objective such as measuring blood oxygen levels, resting heart rate, or sleep stages. Even platforms such as remote patient monitoring typically use measurable criteria such as hospital readmissions, patient adherence, or even overall patient outcomes to evaluate their success or usefulness.

In a practical world with budgets and financial grants or investments, it’s realistic to expect a goal that defines how much a product or program succeeds or fails. The MASTR-E program is unusual, not just in the size and motivation of its subject group, but also in the relatively open-ended possibilities that may result.