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Clever wearable will let soldiers go gloveless in freezing conditions

Have you ever tried carrying out fiddly physical tasks outside in the height of winter? Whether you choose to go gloveless and risk your fingers becoming numb or opt for cold-shielding gloves, you still sacrifice much of the finger dexterity you normally take for granted. Now imagine that you’re not just trying to carry out yard work or build a snowman, but actually doing outdoor activities your life depends on.

That’s a problem faced by the brave servicemen and women in the armed services. Fortunately, investigators at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Massachusetts may have come up with a solution. And, provided that it works as well as promised, it’s a doozy.

The U.S. Army is busy developing new technology that will let people go glove-free in cold conditions without feeling the chill. This is thanks to a pair of electrically heated armbands designed to be worn around the forearms. Previous research has shown how heating a person’s torso can keep their extremities warm as well. However, that would be too much of a demanding ask for a small portable device. Instead, the new battery-powered wearable works simply by heating a wearer’s forearms, with the feeling of warmth being passed on to their extremities.

In early tests, the tech reduced dexterity loss by 50% in 0.5 degrees Celsius (32.9 Fahrenheit). Finger strength loss, meanwhile, was reduced by a massive 90%. This suggests it could be extremely useful for troops (or, frankly, anyone else) working outdoors in inhospitable conditions. Even in scenarios where people are unable to go gloveless, this technology could enable them to wear thin gloves instead of thick mittens. That would enable them to carry out more precise tasks.

The team is currently continuing development in order to turn their promising prototype into a ruggedized, lighter-weight product for production. The ambition is to create a tool that will provide four hours of warming support in freezing conditions. It is likely to be deployed to troops in the U.S. Army in the next two or three years. A commercial version will hopefully follow it to market sometime after that.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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