In 1995, inventor Hal Woodward highly impressed the American Department of Defence (DoD) with his "digital dog tag", a small but resistant device containing a computer chip which holds a soldier's medical and personal data for quick access in the field. Woodward's four-person company Data-Disk developed the Medi-Tag in response to the Army's request for a digital version of the dog tag, which already exists since 1906. As a result, the Pentagon decided to establish the Personal Information Carrier (PIC) project, in order to settle a definite standard. Although Data-Disk was first to develop the Medi-Tag, the Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Centre currently is checking out the products of five competitors, participating in the dog tag programme. According to the Washington Post, an official request for the PIC-project will be issued, in the autumn of 1998, as to attract even more companies.
The traditional dog tag merely displayed the soldier's name, Social Security number, religion and blood type. The new microchip technology enables the insertion of the individual's entire medical history, including X-rays, electrocardiograms, a specification of past allergic reactions, dental records, and so on. At present, storage of 20 megabytes is possible but larger capacities are being envisaged. The current prototype is made of hard nylon material, called Zytel. Doctors are offered instant access to the patient's records through a special scanning device. Initially, the product will be developed for the military but commercial institutions, such as nursing homes, equally have showed a vivid interest in the Medi-Tag.
Data-Disk's creation of the device has partly been funded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command. The company only used half of the provided funding and came up with the model a year and a half earlier than the original schedule. In spite of this excellent achievement, the DoD didn't offer a contract to Woodward's company just like that. Instead, it has to enter the PIC project bid, together with four other competitors. The Telemedicine and Advanced Technology Research Centre has published a list of specifications with regard to the product's durability, storage capacity, and operating system compatibility. In July, the participants' prototypes will be tested at the Army's Electronic Proving Ground at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, whereas the formal bid will only be issued after the summer.
Meanwhile, it appears that the final DoD contract will be so extensive, that it might be split up among the different competitors. Data-Disk is rather confident about the Medi-Tag's durability. However, Datakey, which is the second contender, has designed a seemingly equivalent product, referred to as the Soldier Data Key, which contains a micro-controller for data organization in a directory, similar to that of the Windows operating system. Tecsec, the third competitor, is a specialist in encryption technology and provides a dog tag, comparable to a "smartcard", which has the format of a credit card. The built-in encryption allows for different levels of access, thus enhancing the privacy and security. The remaining companies are SanDisk and Ichor Corporation. Currently, some intense speculation is going on about the DoD's likely preference for a "COTS" alternative, a technology based on commercial off-the-shelf technology. We'll just have to wait and see.