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Bioengineering for Defence

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A look at the work of the Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory, Bangalore

Out of deep waters:A submarine escape set displayed at the Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL) in Bangalore.
Out of deep waters:A submarine escape set displayed at the Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL) in Bangalore.

There is a concept that all knowledge is one. Since it will be tough to handle the unified wholeness in one go, we divide and compartmentalise the whole into parts and study different subjects separately.

The distinction between biology and engineering is a case in point. However, there are moments when the two streams should merge together and flow as a composite stream. One such blend is bioengineering. Some define it as an interface of the two realms of knowledge.

Bioengineering is engineering applied to living things. In a wider sense, it involves the use of engineering and its systematic, quantitative and integrative approach for the solution of problems in biology and biological sciences, including medicine and agriculture. It is a broad field of study.

Biomedical engineering, a subset of bioengineering, focuses on the application of electronics and other branches of engineering to medicine for the purposes of diagnosis and therapy. Whereas bioengineering tries to improve the quality of life in general, biomedical engineering gives support to the medical profession.

We are now discussing the application of bioengineering in Defence systems. The Defence Research and Development Organisation has a research laboratory that deals with bioengineering in depth: Defence Bioengineering and Electromedical Laboratory (DEBEL), PO Box no. 9326, C.V. Raman Nagar, Bangalore-560 093; Web:http://drdo.gov.in/drdo /labs/DEBEL/English/index.jsp? pg=Products.jsp.

This was formed in 1982 by bringing together the Aero Bioengineering Unit on the Aeronautical Development Establishment campus and the Electromedical Instrumentation Division of LRDE. This division was handling R&D activities in electromedical equipment. A modest programme for the design and development of biomedical instrumentation as well as personal protective systems for aircrew had been initiated.

The laboratory started functioning from its own independent premises in 1994. DEBEL is dedicated to both R&D work for our Defence forces and spin-off use to our civilian population. The laboratory has been undertaking indigenisation of flying, protective and survival clothing and equipment for the Air Force, the Navy and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., Bangalore.

It was felt that a complex R&D activity of this nature, involving multidisciplinary fields, can meet the challenging requirements of service combatants, only if the groups operate under one roof. This led to the genesis of DEBEL.

The mandate of the lab includes developing products and technologies that can substantially enhance human performance of soldiers operating under environmentally hostile and physiologically hazardous conditions.

The lab has advanced test facilities and equipment for analytical work in its R&D programmes on cutting-edge technologies in life support systems for the armed forces and bioengineering devices. The studies and research touch areas such as aero-medical equipment and human engineering related to aviation.

Areas of work

The following are some of the significant areas of work undertaken by the lab:

Aero-medical engineering.

Biomedical engineering.

Flying clothing.

Smart materials.

Underwater systems.

Nuclear, biological and chemical warfare protection: DEBEL has with the association of the Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE), Gwalior, developed a respirator face piece which provides protection against toxic gases, vapour, smoke, radioactive dust and bacteria. It is made of specially formulated nitrite rubber.

Flame-retardant common anti-G suit: An inflatable garment designed to enhance the +Gz tolerance of pilots of fighter aircraft. Any change in the direction of flight produces acceleration which may make a pilot heavier. The anti-G suit automatically applies counter-pressure to the abdomen, thighs and legs of the pilot in proportion to the forces experienced during flying.

The counter-pressure prevents excessive pooling of the blood in the above areas and helps him. This has been developed for various aircraft including MiG, Mirage 2000 and the Light Combat Aircraft.

Helicopter oxygen system: Indian Air Force helicopters can fly up to 25,000 ft. above mean sea level. Hence a dedicated aircrew oxygen system is required in them. The system consists of a two-litre composite cylinder fitted with a pressure reducer-cum-regulator valve and a dilution demand oxygen regulator. The oxygen regulator supplies the breathing gas of appropriate oxygen concentration, depending on the altitude, to the pilot. An oxygen mask is attached to the aircrew helmet for the purpose.

For dexterity

Flame-retardant gloves: These gloves in five-finger design have been developed for the aircrew of fighter aircraft to provide light-weight and comfortable hand wear.

They provide maximum dexterity and sense of touch so that operation of aircraft controls and use of survival equipment are not affected.

Electrically heated gloves with active heating elements: Aircrew operating at high altitudes have to be protected from adverse conditions such as wind chill to save them from frostbite. The electrically heated gloves developed by DEBEL eliminate the conventional multilayer concept to achieve insulation.

They use electrical heating filaments which heat up automatically when the temperature drops below a specific value and maintain the temperature within physiological comfort, depending upon individual preferences.

Electrically heated shoe insoles: A personal protective gear specially designed for pilots and aircrew operating at high altitudes to provide mild heating sufficient to keep the feet warm in extreme cold climate. It has a battery charger and intelligent heating systems.

DEBEL often interacts with other research institutions of repute for the exchange of ideas on innovative applications of bioengineering.

DEBEL is dedicated to both R&D work for our Defence forces and spin-off use to our civilian population


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