The U.S. Army is distributing smart earplugs that block out loud noises but enhance quiet ones to soldiers.
Earplugs are very important for soldiers because the plugs tone down the loud noise of gunshots and explosions. However, regular earplugs can make it difficult to hear other sounds, such as crucial commands.
Loud explosions can also result in hearing loss, which is one of the most common problems among veterans. To combat the issue of loud noises, the U.S. Department of Defense has been working on smart earplugs called the Tactical Communication and Protective System (TCAPS), which soften loud noises but amplify quieter sounds.
The hearing system is available in a number of shapes and sizes to comfortably suit the ear canals of individual soldiers. The TCAPS can be charged via solar energy, standard outlets and even vehicle batteries.
Capt. Jennifer Noetzel, chief of the Hearing Program in Fort Drum, New York, said that the TCAPS not only prevent hearing loss in soldiers and make them hear soft noises, but they also improve the soldiers' overall situational awareness and mission effectiveness.
"I'm excited to finally see the TCAPS here in Fort Drum, and pleased to see the soldiers taking to the devices naturally," said Noetzel.
Many soldiers refuse to wear traditional hearing protection while on the field as these obstruct their overall situational awareness. Although some protective gear made of foam are effective in blocking out loud noises on the field, many soldiers find them cumbersome and difficult to carry around in warfare. However, the TCAPS offer a simple and flexible hearing system that can also link to a soldier's existing communications.
According to the official U.S. Army website, Sgt. Nathaniel D. Burton, a 12-year veteran in the Infantry, was affected by hearing problems because of combat-related loud noises. Burton admits that he had to remove at least one side of his hearing protection to properly listen to the soldiers around him. The war veteran hopes that the TCAPS had been available in the past, which would have prevented many soldiers from losing their hearing capabilities.
The TCAPS cost $2,000, and the U.S. Army has distributed only 20,000 of these. The effectiveness of the TCAPS may result in the Army distributing more of the smart earplugs to soldiers in the near term.
Check out a short video on the TCAPS.