The company Body Labs has won a contract to develop specialty body armor for female troops, it announced Monday. (Body Labs image)

The U.S. military has developed numerous forms of body armor during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, offering increased protection, comfort and durability. One development has lagged: Fitting body armor to women, who comprise about 15 percent of an active force of 1.3 million troops.

Several projects are underway to address that, including a new effort that will use digital avatars produced by Body Labs, a start-up technology firm in New York City. The firm announced Monday that it has signed a two-year contract with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Massachusetts to provide data and analytics to help the Army improve its body armor.

Body Labs will convert a recently acquired scan of 14,000 soldiers and turn the data  into digital, three-dimensional avatars and “statistical models,” it said. The company’s work is built on a decade of research at Brown University.

“Understanding the breadth of human 3D geometry and human motion will help the Army produce tactical armor that is optimally fit to the greatest number of soldiers,” said Bill O’Farrell, co-founder and CEO of Body Labs. “And, that same understanding and the tools we build from it, can be applied to the design and manufacturing challenges the Army faces in a host of other areas, including uniforms, backpacks, helmets, boots and vehicles.”

The company released this video last year to market and explain its technology:

The U.S. Army is using digital avatars produced by Body Labs to better fit body armor to women's bodies. (Body Labs via YouTube)

The effort comes as the military is researching how best to integrate women into combat units that have been closed to them for years. Then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered that women be eligible for all jobs in the military early last year, leaving the services until 2016 to determine how to comply and to request some positions remain closed.

This isn’t the first effort to improve body armor for women. In 2012, for example, female soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Stewart, Ga., field-tested a new body armor tailored to them. It was based on the Army’s Improved Outer Tactical Vest,

PEO Soldier has manufactured 100 of the new female Improved Outer Tactical Vests, known as IOTVs, thus far. In August and September of 2012, the female IOTV was field tested by 19 Female Engagement Team, or FET, Soldiers at Fort Campbell, Ky. Vests were also fielded to FET team soldiers in 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division, at Fort Stewart, Ga., in November 2012. Special Operations Command also received some to test, officials said.

Time magazine named the vests one of their best inventions for 2012. It was developed in part by the same U.S. Army research center in Natick that just signed the deal with Body Labs.


Female soldiers try on a body armor vest tailored for them in 2012. (U.S. Army photo)