A COVID-19 hack the Salvation Army desperately need in the field…

Front line staff are constantly at risk during the global pandemic, and the Salvation Army believe that an instant COVID risk screening test & a rapid translation app would lower that risk.

With ‘The Global Hack’ kicking off in a matter of hours, it’s heartening to see so many worthy projects being submitted that align with the various UN sustainability goals that the event has been shaped around.

The goal is simple, each virtual team needs to work together to develop an MVP over a 48hr period, delivering a practical solution that aligns with one, or more, of the program streams that include crisis, governance, education, environment, mental health, solidarity in action, empowerment, health & wellness, and work.

A quick review of the various project submissions reveals that whilst the crisis track is popular, teams are also forward-looking, so tracks like education, health, empowerment, mental health and work have a lot of interest.

Front-line care workers are arguably at most risk of exposure in the community, yet they continue to show up day after day because they know they must or people will suffer, and in some communities, starve. In Philadelphia, The Salvation Army has a veritable army of volunteers handing out food boxes every morning, risking exposure, so we asked them to tell us about what life is like in their community today and what hack they need tomorrow.

Can you tell me about your day to day work in the community?

Our agency (The Salvation Army) and church are in an at-risk neighborhood in Philadelphia. Within this community there is quite a bit of need during normal times which is multiplied during these days.

Our typical day begins at about 7:30 as we await the delivery of either perishable or non-perishable food. We have the sidewalks marked with bright red tape set six feet apart. This is our attempt to keep social distancing for a mass distribution.

Our distribution is set to begin at 10am and people begin to line up about 8:30 with the line stretching about 500 meters up the side streets. Once we know how many packages we have, we count out tickets in that number to be handed out. At about 10am we begin to hand out the boxes. It goes very quickly for the most part.

All volunteers are wearing masks and gloves; many of those in line are wearing masks as well. For the most part, by 11am the food has been handed out, so far this has ranged between 400-500 boxes per day. Those who cannot get a box are encouraged to come back earlier the next distribution day. We also set boxes aside to do home delivery of food to the elderly.

What is your biggest challenge or risk?

Obviously, this front-line work exposes us and our volunteers and staff to the virus. It also exposes those who line up to greater risk as well. We do our best to enforce social distancing – but the increased risk is there, nonetheless.

In our context, there are many language groups which makes effective communication difficult. Also, will we have enough supply or will we run out of product? So, effectively communicating important information to all language groups is a concern and challenge, and I’m certain this would extend to city/state and federal government as well.

The longer this crisis lasts, the more likely it is that we will run out of regular supplies – especially at the volume and rate we are distributing, which is another risk as it could cause unrest, particularly in inner city neighbourhoods like ours.

How are you currently managing this risk?

When serving publicly we wear masks and gloves. We also wash our hands regularly. At the beginning of the crisis we did not have these protections, but as things have progressed, it was provided.

What one issue could The Global Hack solve for you?

An easy translation app that could be used in the heat of battle. Also, an instant test that tells us if someone has a temp or even tell us quickly is someone has the virus (or a future virus!).

The power of Voice to make a difference

It’s little surprise that the country that holds one of the world’s largest song festivals has made voice-enabled technology a priority in its next evolution of delivering seamless digital government services.

Voice-enabled services are arguably the technology that will change the lives of almost everyone connected to the internet. Consider the facts; at present, around 20% of all searches are voice, around 30% of smartphone users worldwide use voice tech at least once a week, and astonishingly, it’s estimated that around 50% of all online searches will be voice-based in the next year or two.

Voice platforms have evolved remarkably in recent years, and continue to evolve at a rapid pace, turning voice from a ‘nice to have’ path to market for public and private entities into a ‘must have’ solution, primarily because voice facilitates the one thing end users crave, convenience.

Kaimar Karu, Estonia’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology, sums it up nicely.
“A defining factor of what will be the ‘next big thing’ is often based on what makes life easier or more convenient for ‘lazy people’”, he said. “We are all lazy people in that sense, so anything that helps us to be slightly more lazy, to put in less effort or work less in order to achieve something or get something is quite likely to be well used, popular and needed.”

It’s this focus on ‘end-user’ convenience that underpins Estonia’s recently published #KrattAI framework which aims to deliver the next evolution of digital public services in Estonia. It’s essentially a vision of how public services should digitally work in the age of artificial intelligence (AI), and one of its core use cases is that it would provide people with the opportunity to use public direct and informational services by voice-based interaction with AI-based virtual assistants.

The ultimate goal is that #KrattAI is an interoperable network of public sector AI applications (agents, bots, assistants, etc) as well as private sector ones, which would work from the user perspective as a single, united channel for accessing public direct and informational services. In the simplest terms, it’s an interoperable voice enabled platform that will make everyday life easier for Estonians.

Looking specifically at the health care sector, the potential use cases of voice are countless and have the potential to improve the value and efficiency of care. Book an appointment with your doctor or specialist of choice through a mobile app that has Alexa integration. Doctors could use voice analysis to identify behavioural health issues. Family members could program their elderly parents Alexa Echo to remind them of the time they have to take their medication. Physicians could utilize voice to text enabled programs to streamline the process of taking patient notes, the list goes on.

Which is probably why voice is such a hot topic in the global hacker community. At a recent hackathon in Italy, voice took centre stage when a local team developed a solution to help isolated elderly people stay connected. Likewise, in the upcoming “The Global Hack” event which is attracting literally thousands of designers, programmers, data scientists and health care workers, to explore how to rapidly hack tech to deliver solutions to COVID-19, it’s expected voice solutions will be a hot topic.

The Global Hack is a partnership between Accelerate Estonia, Garage48, with additional financial support from the European Commission, running from 09-12 April and is expected to attract over 1 million participants from across the world.

The coder who used Python in 2000 is now in charge of Estonia’s space program

Twenty years ago, Kaimar Karu lead a web development agency at a time when 80% of internet users used Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, internet speeds were measured in kilobytes, people used computers to access the Internet, and the dominant coding language was PHP.

Yet at that time, Karu encouraged his dev team to code in Python, today’s coding language of choice in the epoch of AI and Machine Learning. Why? Because, in his view, Python was better.

“We delivered projects using Python at a time where everybody was using PHP, so we were outliers who used different languages simply because we thought it worked best. Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work with amazing, forward-looking people who have rarely settled for the status quo. Now look at the world, Python is everywhere,” Karu said.

Today, as the Minister of Foreign Trade and Information Technology for the Republic of Estonia, he’s leading ICT strategy for his country from earth to space, yet he’s typically Estonian about it.

“When I describe my role, I’d jokingly say it’s everything from post box to space. Which is kind of what it is as I’m in charge of Estonian post and the Estonian space program, among other things,” he remarked.

In the middle of a global pandemic, it’s this type of self-effacing mindset, backed by a capacity to think like an outlier and make pragmatic decisions in real-time that has to be one of the reasons Estonia is emotionally weathering the COVID-19 pandemic better than most EU countries.

“We’re a small country and I believe that our real competitive advantage is pragmatism and lack of patience for everything stupid. Estonians have proven to live by a ‘can do’ attitude. We aren’t afraid of taking risks, experimenting, building on what works and abandoning what doesn’t.”

Arguably, Estonia’s inherent pragmatism and appetite for risk and innovation is a result of the fact their country literally had to start from scratch after regaining independence in 1991. How they then moved from independence to become the world’s most digitized government is legendary.

“Estonia’s world-leading position in tech is built on luck and hard work. We were lucky, in a sense, to have the need to build our economy, our government, our collaboration models from scratch after regaining independence. This created a context where everything was possible – and we took this opportunity to build something that no-one else thought was possible,” he said.

Today, most services offered by Estonia’s government are made available electronically via a national Digital I.D. that empowers people to vote, access health data, manage tax, police records and prescriptions online. But they’re not stopping there. Next on the to-do list are projects such as migrating most government services to voice under the #KrattAI framework, as well as exploring ongoing innovation in the education and the environmental sectors.

Through Minister Karu’s eyes, necessity is the mother of invention.

“We started by building a foundation where we could build everything else. Then, we just did what felt right and it seems to have worked and still does. So far, the choice of focus has been organic, whenever there’s a need, innovation will happen. Today, during the crisis, everything will shift, and everything will change, and innovation must happen in a very rapid way because it requires significant changes in our everyday lives,” he said.

Estonia’s short but proud history of innovation built through public private partnerships makes it the perfect home to launch a global initiative to develop solutions and strategies to directly address the COVID-19 crisis via The Global Hack that’s being led in partnership between Accelerate Estonian, the innovation unit in Karu’s ministry, and Garage48, with additional financial support from the European Commission.

The global hackathon is a platform and a movement that gathers the brightest minds over the world from the public and private sectors, which is the key way that it differs from other hacks – that this crisis unquestionably needs strong cooperation between the public and private sector.

When asked about some of the expected outcomes he’d like to see from The Global Hack, Minister Karu is cautiously optimistic.

“We are quite likely to find quite a few amazing ideas coming from this, I expect the teams are likely to come up with completely novel solutions, because many of the old ways don’t work anymore, and today’s world does need bravery and novelty. The opportunity to gather great minds from around the world to work together on most critical challenges and find questions to acute questions is simply invaluable. By combining potential solutions with governmental and legislative support, we are in a good position to act fast” he said.

The tech community initiative – “The Global Hack“ online hackathon – will run from 09-12 April and is expected to attract over 1 million participants from across the world.

The global hunger for health-tech may just save us all

Health-Tech – the world’s second fastest growing innovation sector, with an almost unprecedented growth trajectory – is a far more interesting sector than it initially sounds.

It’s interesting because the health care sector is desperate for disruption and innovation all the way along the value chain from improving patient delivery of care, right through to back office innovations that improve interoperability of an array of legacy enterprise systems with a widening array of nimble, purpose built databases, applications, platforms and devices.

From a tech innovation perspective, innovating within the health care sector has its own unique and often endemic challenges around data protection, system interoperability, a seemingly endless array of stakeholders with complex and sometimes counterintuitive needs, and an at times frustratingly snail-like pace of change on the path to modernization.

Yet despite the abovementioned challenges, the growth in health tech start-ups globally is simply astounding. Possibly, this is being driven by three key factors;

1. Consumers (patients) have come to expect technology innovations in every area of their lives, so they are forcing &/or challenging their carers to make their lives easier.

2. Health care administrators are under increasing pressure to streamline and become more efficient – much like everywhere else – because the bottom-line ultimately rules.

3. And finally, there seems to be a genuinely understood hunger by the people within health care to work with health tech start-ups simply because it’s a cohort of passionate entrepreneurs hoping to solve their day-to-day problems.

That why it’s not surprising that events like The Global Hack attract literally thousands of designers, programmers, data nerds, scientists and health care workers, all vying to create the new-new thing to disrupt their sector and improve the quality of health care.

Case in point, the recent #HACKTHEVIRUS event that was pulled together by Garage48 and Accelerate Estonia with the stated goal of the event being to rapidly uncover innovative solutions to fight the COVID-19 pandemic with the power of community. The event attracted 1,000+ hackers and resulted in 5 winners who won $5k for execution of their moon-shot idea.

This, in turn, led to the upcoming “The Global Hack“ online hackathon running from 09-12 April and which is expected to attract over 1 million participants from across the world. The event is being led in partnership between Accelerate Estonia, the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Information Technology, Garage48, with additional financial support from the European Commission.

At a time where fully half the planets population is in lockdown, what better cause can there be than to team up online and combine forces to tackle the world’s most serious issue?

PODCAST: Utilising technology to save the lives of military veterans – Soldier.ly

Podcast republished from Defence Connect

Veteran Chris Rhyss Edwards came within moments of taking his own life. In this episode of the Defence Connect Podcast, he recounts how it was an SMS at exactly the right time which changed that decision and is the reason that he is alive today.

Joining host Phil Tarrant, Edwards shares how this occurrence shaped his decision to explore how technology could be used to avoid veteran suicides, unpack the technology that he is developing and share how Soldier.ly is future-proofing its business plan to utilise new and upcoming technology.

Edwards also reveals his advice for those looking to start a business in the defence sector, who he is hoping to recruit as part of his team, and the biggest challenges facing Soldier.ly today.

 Listen here…

Veterans shouldn’t be sleeping on our streets…

At present, there are 110,000+ Australians currently roofless, homeless or living in insecure housing – which is tragic in and of itself – but as a veteran I’m heartbroken knowing that in NSW 8-10% of these are veterans.

1.6% of Australians volunteer to wear a uniform and serve this country, yet after they leave the service they are twice as likely to die by suicide, three times as likely to be unemployed or underemployed, and up to five times as likely to end up on the streets.

We clearly need to do more.

Which is why I’m doing my small part to make a difference by taking part in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout to raise money for the St Vincent de Paul Society to support all Australians in need. For one night, I’ll be sleeping outside to raise awareness for all of Australia’s homeless men, women and children – but I’m putting the spotlight on veterans specifically.

I’m fortunate to be one of the majority of veterans who are gainfully employed, and as such, able to put food on the table and keep a roof over my head. Now, I clearly don’t know what it’s like to be homeless, vulnerable and nigh on invisible, but recently a young veteran was sent to us for mentorship and his story involved recently living on the streets.

He offered to share his experience, this is what he had to say.

I asked him what his greatest struggle was…

“I’ve found the hardest struggle is no stability, from not having my own place and not having a purpose since leaving the army,” he said. “But I’m determined to tough it out and I think things will get better when I have a job, a roof and independence again.”

I asked him about what he wants to do next…

“I just need to save enough to get my own place and a car so I can attend my appointments and start my training to work in the fitness sector. I want to one day work within addiction and rehabilitation, that’s why I figured I’d start with PT.”

And then I asked him what the underlying problem was…

“I struggled when I first got out to find what I wanted to do next whilst looking for a job where I feel important and challenged.”

His story is no doubt common among the veterans who are lost in our streets and parks, so to help break the cycle of homelessness, I need your support. Will you help me to change this statistic for good?

In the US, a program called Built for Zero is ending veteran homelessness in a number of cities. With 5,000+ ESO’s operating around Australia, there are plenty of people waiting to help veterans and their families before their situation gets this dire – or with capability to support them if it does.

Our community needs to be linking in with local shelters and support services to ensure they are aware of the free help available to our vets. Sadly, organisations are under-resourced and often don’t have the capacity to be talking to each other, you could be the missing link.

Money isn’t always the answer. You can choose to link a local homeless shelter with a local veteran ESO. Or you can also donate to my CEO Sleepout campaign by following this link:


Brand Tales: A word with …Chris Rhyss Edwards

Republished article from Brand Tales

The soldier turned content expert now helps military veterans face the future.

Chris Rhyss Edwards is not your average content specialist and author. After serving his country as an army combat engineer, Edwards became a successful digital media professional and content director, most recently at Comexposium. Last year, he launched Soldier.ly, a business that develops apps to help the quality of life of former soldiers.

Brand Tales: What is Soldier.ly?

Chris Rhyss Edwards: I’m a veteran who has post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of a fairly violent upbringing as well as a decade of service in the army. I formed Soldier.ly as a company to develop smart apps for my fellow veterans to help them monitor and manage their anxiety, stress and PTSD. The sad fact is a veteran takes their life every hour – we lose about 10,000 a year in the Western world. My team and I are working hard to create a smartwatch app that’s purpose-built to help veterans stay in control of their stress and PTSD, with the ultimate aim of trying to reduce the high suicide rate in the veteran community.

BT: Why is this project so important to you?

Edwards: We’ve lost more veterans to suicide than in combat in Afghanistan, so I’m deeply frustrated every time I hear that another veteran has taken their life because either the system has let them down or because they can’t find support. I honestly believe that one of the fastest ways to help veterans is to give them a practical app they can use on their smartwatch to help them help themselves by tracking and managing their anxiety and stress before things get out of hand.

BT: How did a former soldier end up as a content strategist?

Edwards: The only two things I ever wanted to do in life was be a soldier and a writer. After I left the military I moved into the digital media sector and by luck ended up almost exclusively working on projects that focused on developing commercially successful content for various brands like Blockbuster, NewsCorp and Clemenger BBDO. I love the written word – I’m a total word nerd – so I enjoy employing words well to engage people and persuade them to change behaviour.

BT: You completed a postgraduate Master of Creative Industries, majoring in Content Commercialisation, at QUT in 2012. What was the main thing you gained from that experience?

Edwards: How to write for different audiences and mediums. I originally signed up for the course to learn how to write non-fiction better as I’d been working on a book for over a year. What I took away from the course was a set of skills around writing for screen, print and social media, and these skills have been incredibly useful in recent years.

BT: In 2014, you wrote: “The only way content will ever regain our attention is when brands start giving us real value, when they start leveraging the age-old idea of storytelling to recapture our attention and imagination.” Have you seen much improvement since then?

Edwards: Absolutely. There are so many brands finally investing the time and effort to create deeply personal or compelling content that gives consumers value for the time they invest to consume it. The quality of long- and short-form text and video content has significantly improved, though there’s still a lot of absolute drivel out there because far too many people are still creating content for content’s sake. I’m genuinely excited about the way some brands are tapping into influencer marketing and using brand advocates to create content that tells truly personal brand stories that engage. The category doing this best has to be cosmetics – there have been some fantastic user-generated content campaigns in recent months from Estee Lauder and Lush Cosmetics, so I think a lot of other verticals could learn a few lessons from this innovative category.

“More brands [are] approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just ‘being seen’.”

BT: What kind of content marketing works best for you as a consumer now?

Edwards: I think influencer marketing is true to its name. I tend to trust recommendations from friends, family and Facebook over blatant brand marketing, so when I see someone I respect who has a significant social following sharing news or reviews of a product, I tend to listen.

BT: What are your favourite examples of Australian content marketing (or branded content)?

Edwards: One of my personal favourite local brands creating beautiful content that’s caught my attention and swayed me to purchase has been Mon Purse. It manufactures and sells premium made-to-order bags and accessories, and I’d seen its beautiful social assets for months, thinking “yeah, that’s beautiful, but I’m a guy and bags aren’t my bag”, then I saw an ad for a patent leather monogrammed wallet and I was hooked. Because it’d been pushing out good content across various social channels for months, I felt comfortable enough to purchase something I’d never bought online previously. Brilliant.

BT: Globally, which company does a great job with its content?

Edwards: Everyone says Red Bull because it’s a media powerhouse these days, but I’d say Tesla is the best ambassador for content marketing done well. Its recent launch of a Tesla into space captured the world’s attention, and that’s just the latest example of the great work it does inside a company that operates on a ridiculously slim advertising and marketing budget. Its entire marketing focus is on two things: earned media and cultivating a global community of raving fans. To me, there’s no other brand out there that does this as well.

BT: What’s the future of content marketing in Australia?

Edwards: I think Australia’s had a bumpy start in the content marketing space, but I see light at the end of the tunnel. The sad debacle around the iSentia acquisition of content agency King Content – quickly followed by the closing of the agency – took the wind out of the sector for a while, which I think that was a good thing.

When content marketing became the buzzword, almost overnight every agency pivoted and became a content marketing agency. There was a lot of noise, smoke and mirrors that resulted in clients paying way too much for meagre campaign-focused work that had little genuine brand insight or well-thought-through strategy. Thankfully, I now see more brands approaching the content sector more carefully, with more rigour and better success metrics than just “being seen”. Some agencies have truly earned their stripes in this space; the work out of Edge and Edelman has been great.

I’m also gladdened to see the content discovery sector has evolved, too. Too many people assume content campaigns go viral simply because they’re cute or compelling content, when the truth is most viral campaigns have a significant paid component to them. So, seeing the growth in the integration of content discovery platforms, such as Taboola and Outbrain, as well as paid social media advertising across Facebook and YouTube in media plans and schedules is a great sign marketers understand that content marketing is as equally about creating great content as it is about ensuring the content gets seen.

Feature article: A Revolutionary New Weapon for Combating Stress: The Soldierly Smartwatch App

Article republished from HOTDOC

We talked to the founder and CEO of Soldier.ly, which has built a revolutionary new smartwatch app focused on improving the lives of veterans and others prone to high stress.

Chris Rhyss Edwards is a former soldier who spent a decade in the Australian Army as a Combat Engineer and Peacekeeper. Many years after leaving the military, on his honeymoon in Thailand, he and his wife were having serious problems. Rather than enjoying what should have been a romantic vacation, they were at each other’s throats because they felt socially isolated from their support networks, and were struggling spending so much time together in confinement. At his lowest moment, Chris found himself on top of a building seven stories high, emotionally burnt out, and contemplating whether to jump.

As he stood there, peering over the ledge, he was interrupted by a text message from a friend asking, ‘Are you OK? I haven’t seen you on social media’. Fortunately, that was enough to change Chris’ mindset, and he stepped away from the edge.

What was happening to Chris, happens to too many veterans. Bouts of depression, anxiety and PTSD affect almost half of those who leave the Australian Defence Force.

Although his wife returned to Australia — and Chris subsequently struggled with insomnia, heavy drinking, and loneliness — he carried on, realising he wanted to do something to help others in similar stressful circumstances.

After thinking the idea over, he was inspired to create an app linked to wearable technology. The app would help people identify stress early on, so they could turn things around before their stress worsened. As an army veteran, Chris thought this technology would be particularly useful for those who had served in the military.

Stress and the military

If anyone is to know something about stress, it’s Chris. Growing up in the shadow of a violent alcoholic father, Chris became accustomed to witnessing regular beatings of his mother, as well as enduring many beatings of his own.

From a young age he recalled standing in front of his mother when his father returned home drunk and angry. This compulsion to protect ultimately led Chris to want to become a soldier as soon as he could. So, at the age of 17, he joined the army and never looked back.

Unfortunately, by then Chris had already developed complex PTSD, and his time in the habitually chronic stress environment of the army only worsened it.

As Chris described, “It’s a fairly stress filled environment that comes at you from many directions. There’d be car accidents with people killed or seriously injured, so if you were first on the scene you’d be scraping up your mates or patching them up until help arrived. Other times, there’d have been a suicide and you’d be the first on the scene so you’d need to try and keep people calm, things like that”.

Pictured: Chris Rhyss Edwards during his time serving in the ADF.

As a result of those experiences, Chris developed complex PTSD or CPTSD. Whereas PTSD is caused by a single traumatic event, CPTSD occurs after months — and even years — of repeated traumatic experiences. It also has more debilitating symptoms than PTSD.

For instance, while both diagnoses are associated with nightmares, flashbacks and hyperarousal, complex PTSD also includes symptoms like: uncontrollable feelings, dissociation, negative self-perception, relationship difficulties and a strong sense of despair.

Regrettably, this condition is relatively common among military personnel. As Chris explains:

Only about 20% of soldiers in operation are shot at, but 46% of us leave with some form of mental illness or injury, and about 28% suffer from post-traumatic stress. PTSD actually derives from being in a sustained period of stress and never having the chance to power down. Basically, the brain rewires and you stay in a state of chronic stress.

The development of the Soldierly app

As a result of his army experiences, Chris was easily able to see how wearable technology could benefit those currently serving in the military, as well as veterans. So, he sat down with various factory executives at Apple, Fitbit, Samsung, and Google Life Sciences to discuss the idea with them, and it was met with great enthusiasm.

Based on those conversations, Chris founded the company, Soldier.ly, to produce his smartphone app. The Soldierly app which will be released in early 2019 — runs on Fitbit smartwatches and works on popular iOS and Android smartphones to detect stress and help the wearer take control.

It does this by tracking various behavioural biometrics including heart rate variability, sleep cycles, time spent in exercise and time spent using a smartphone. Then, based on various signals, it interrupts the wearer when it senses the onset of stress. Chris describes this as especially important, because many military personnel have become so accustomed to stress that they don’t even realise when they’re beginning to experience it.

He explains:

We lose a veteran every hour in the United States, and in Australia, it’s one every four days. The goal of the Soldierly app is to reduce suffering in the veteran and first responder communities by actually helping people who are accustomed to living with chronic stress to become mindful of it.

“The interesting thing is because they get so used to stress, they actually don’t recognise the signals anymore. So, when you can actually look at an outsider — your device being the outsider — and say ‘Hey, I’m detecting sustained periods of stress, do something about that right now’.

“This does two things… the first is that the app makes them mindful of stress and then helps them calm down, but what it also does is help them start to notice when they’re in these scenarios that have previously caused stress so they’re less stressed when facing them in the future. That was an unexpected outcome for us”, he says.

Pictured: The Soldierly app walking a user through a breathing exercise to alleviate mild stress.

How the Soldierly app works

“Basically, your average Fitbit sits on your wrist with its array of electronic sensors and apps that quietly run in the background, looking at how far you’re moving, whether you’re sleeping or moving around at night, noticing if your heart rate is steady for a period of time etc.  There are several different algorithms running at once and it’s building up a baseline”, Chris explains.

The Soldierly app then notices when there are significant variations from the baseline. When these are observed, Chris explains, “It alerts you by vibrating. On the screen, it will say, ‘Hey, are you okay? I’m detecting elevated heart rate levels’.

“If you say, ‘Yeah, I’m OK, then it asks ‘OK, so how serious an event was this?’ and it then asks you to rate the triggering event. So, for example, you may have been playing Xbox, which is a positive stressor, so now the app learns that this biometric incident profile isn’t a threat, so it knows not to worry about that in the future’. Basically, the device learns about you as an individual as you go about your day to day life, becoming smarter daily”.

Pictured: The Soldierly app showing (left) the screen that appears when stress is detected, (middle) the screen that appears when ‘mild stress’ is selected, and (right) the screen that appears on other wearers’ smartwatches when a friend alerts them of ‘severe stress’.

On the flip side, if the user is experiencing stress, the Soldierly app identifies the level of stress and then makes suggestions to bring users closer to their baseline. For example, in the case of mild stress, users are guided to do a breathing exercise — breathing in for four counts, holding their breath for four counts, and then exhaling for four counts, until they return to a calm state.

In the event of moderate stress, they’re directed to open up their smartphone and go through a guided visualisation and auditory exercise that uses binaural beats — in conjunction with guided meditation — to calm the brain down.

Then, in the case of severe stress, the Soldierly app does one of three things.

The first option it will offer is to reach out to the users chosen social connections, letting them know via messenger or SMS that their friend needs their support right now. If the user wants more formal support, the app asks, ‘Do you want to find support in your local area to go and see right now?’ If they choose yes, the app recommends whichever of the 3,000+ national Ex-Service Organisations that are located within the persons postcode. If there’s no local support available, the app will connect them immediately to the Open Arms (formerly VVCS) national hotline.

“We’ve tested this tiered approach and it’s just gone down so well. The boys will literally prefer to let their friends know, so when I hit the reach out button, it automatically pings the phones of the five people in my network, where we’ve found that at least two of them pick up in real-time and that, for our community, is awesome”, he says.

The Soldierly app has so much potential to serve the veteran community that Chris and his team are in discussions with the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a national trial. The aim of the trial is to better understand what is causing veterans’ stress, as well as to help veterans achieve better mental health by helping them take control of the stress in their lives.

Other uses for the Soldierly app

As useful as the Soldierly app is for the military, it has the potential to be far more than just a tool for improving the lives of veterans. The app can readily be used in other vulnerable communities, such as helping people with disabilities, first-responders, the elderly and even stressed out executives.

To that end, there’s a lot of exciting research underway at Soldierly who have recently partnered with UTS’ Neuroscience Research Laboratory to conduct medical grade testing of the app with a view to it receiving TGA approval as a medical device.

“By the end of January, we hope to have enough data to make one final tweak of the algorithm so that we know we are achieving accuracy scores above 90%”, he said. “We plan to run tests on veterans and first responders, and then validate the learnings from these tests with mainstream civilian audiences so we can make the app live on the App Store and Google Play Store where it’s available to the 40 million Americans and 2.5 million Australians who are dealing with severe stress”.

Chris mentions that in addition to helping those individuals, the Soldierly app also has the potential to be extremely valuable in the corporate world. To this end, he considers himself especially fortunate for his amazing experience with HCF Catalyst, Australian’s leading health tech accelerator program.

“HCF Accelerator has been so good to us in the sense of supporting us through our journey and connecting us with some amazing people along the way. They have also agreed to participate in a pilot trial with 100 executives using the Soldierly app, which I think is a great start for us to move into the corporate sector where stress costs big business around $300 billion a year.

“It’s very much thanks to Sheena Jack, CEO of HCF, that we’ve been able to develop a fully-functional prototype which we have been able to take to trial in under 6 months. They’re a very proactive supporter of ours, and we’re deeply grateful for that support”, Chris says.

How the Soldierly app can benefit GPs

While the Soldierly app will be especially useful to individuals suffering from stress, it can also make it easier for GPs to treat their patients. For instance, after speaking to a large group of GPs in Australia, Chris realised there’s a very specific need for improved patient monitoring. This is seen as particularly important, because a whopping 70% of visits to doctors are stress-related.

“We could lessen the burden on the National Health System if there was a proactive monitoring tool that a doctor could use to help patients who come in frequently”, Chris says. He believes that with this capability, doctors could monitor patients from their office and give them a call if it looked like they needed additional help.

It’s great for elderly people as well… Some older people can fall over in their houses and may lay there for hours or days undetected and unable to reach out for help. With the Soldierly app, we could see they were incredibly stressed, and that persons GP, neighbours or family could be immediately alerted to offer support.

Pictured: The Soldierly app displayed on the wrist of an elderly wearer.

Chris encourages doctors who are interested in the technology to visit the Soldier.ly website. He also appreciates receiving emails from GPs and other people who offer suggestions for other use cases for the app, saying, “I get the weirdest and most wonderful emails at all hours of the day from people offering their support, it’s been amazing”.

To reach Chris by email, you can contact him at chris@soldier.ly.

The bottom line

Stress in itself isn’t bad, yet we’ve normalised stress to the point that it’s become dangerous. According to the American Psychological Association, chronic stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. It also leads to negative mental health outcomes that affect our entire society, impacting people of all ages relationships and working lives, and resulting in billions of dollars in productivity losses every year.

While stress impacts almost everyone at some point in their lives, there are some populations that are particularly vulnerable, such as military personnel, veterans, the disabled, the elderly and those with mental illnesses.

Until recently, there were few reliable solutions to help these individuals identify when they were beginning to experience stress, so they could turn things around. With the advent of the Soldierly app, that’s changed.

Perhaps, in the not-so-distant-future, GPs will be able to monitor patients’ conditions from the comfort of their office with the use of wearable technologies — allowing them to proactively provide patients with the best possible care. Sounds to us like an idea whose time has come.

An introduction to ‘Good Reasons to Kill’

It was a slow trip up the mountain, made ever so by the never-ending rains that has turned whatever it was the locals had once termed a ‘road’ into a ten-mile long quagmire that had our convoy slipping and sliding and flicking mud into the dense forest that threatened to ensnare us.

It was hot, cramped and crowded in the back of the vehicles, but this wasn’t anything new. We’d been deployed here from Australia’s northern end during a time of the year when the temperature rarely dropped below 30. So, we sat in silence, as trained, our eyes scanning our arks. Left and right. Left and right.

Shots came from the trees to the left of our convoy, so the vehicles skidded to a halt. We were all out and face in the dirt in seconds. In retrospect, it still astounds me how six men, crammed into the back bench seats of a Land Rover, laden with rifles, webbing, Kevlar vests and helmets, switched so swiftly from suffering in stoic silence to a state of tactical readiness with faces in the mud and fingers on the trigger.

It’s borderline psychopathy, but that’s what the system had made us.

Two contingents of men pushed forward as the rest of us held the ground. Seems like what we’d all been waiting – what we’d been sent here for – had finally arrived. We’d been deployed to Bougainville on Operation Lagoon, part of the multinational South Pacific Peace Keeping Force (SPPKF) to provide protection for peace talks between ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad guys’.

The bad guys, the Bougainville Republican Army, had recently massacred a group of the good guys, Papua New Guinean troops, at a high risk location. We were on our way to this location when we came under fire. Shots continued to ring out in the trees ahead of us as we lay there waiting for orders. No one moved. No one spoke. We simply waited.

Minutes later, the firing stopped and we received the all clear, so we remounted the vehicles and set off up the mountain to the spot where the ill-fated PNG troops had died just days before. When we made it to the top of the mountain I set to work on the task at hand. One of a handful of combat engineers in the peace keeping force, I’d been tasked with getting the water running again to Arawa, the village below us where the peace talks would be held in a matter of days.

Three teams of men formed a perimeter around the dam so I could get to work. I was immediately surprised to learn that the half decade of training in field engineering I’d had, and the boxes of all manner of tools that I’d brought with me, were of little use. The job required little more than me diving into the center of the dam to remove rocks and debris that blocked the dams’ outlet. It seems this is how the bad guys had lured the PNG soldiers up the mountain to be ambushed. That thought didn’t sit well.

Hours later, we set off back down the mountain, job done, water flow restored. We spent the next few days rotating on armed patrols that kept the towns’ perimeter safe, but before they even began, the peace talks failed. So we packed up camp, took down the improvised field defenses and traveled by landing craft back to the Tobruk that rested at anchor safely offshore.

We traveled back to Australia feeling like an opportunity had been missed. We’d patrolled the defensive perimeter around Arawa with weapons loaded and cocked, a round in the chamber, safety catch on, finger by the trigger, ready for whatever came next. Yet, like so many soldiers who’d trained for the worst, nothing happened.

So we traveled home wondering.

Over the seemingly endless hours in transit home we were left to our own devices to wonder: if harm’s way had found us, how would we have responded? Would we have done the job we’d been trained to do? I will never know. But this question has plagued me for years. If placed in an intractable situation where it was them or me, would I have what it took to take another human life?

It took me years to realise that this was the wrong question to be asking.

The question I should have asked if I’d ever found myself in a life or death situation, was ‘did I have a good reason to kill?’

Osama Bin Laden dies of natural causes* age 54

Osama Bin Laden dies of natural causes* age 54

The world’s best known terrorist and top man on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives List, Osama bin Laden, has died overnight in Pakistan of what has been described by U.S. troops as a fortuitous lead overdose.

The long time al-Qaeda leader and architect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks was inadvertently exposed to dangerously high volumes of lead after his kidney dialysis machine was noticed on a battlefield in Pakistan, making him an easy target for U.S. troops.

President Obama announced the news of Osama’s death to a grateful nation, leading to thousands of people taking to the streets to show their support for the U.S. governments’ astute decision to allocate trillions of dollars of their tax monies to find and assassinate one man.

54yr old Bin Laden rose to fame during the early nineties when he turned his back on his wealthy Saudi family and Scientology beliefs to pursue his lifelong dream of winning a major prize on Americas Funniest Home Videos. Over the past decade Osama appeared in over a dozen poorly shot home videos that terrorised the western world with their atrocious storylines and poor production values.

However Osama’s hopes of being crowned a grand prize winner on Americas Funniest Home Videos were dashed after his long time table tennis partner Al Zarqawi died in 2006 after several thousand pounds of TNT accidentally fell on him.

As Osama’s second in charge, Al Zarqawi had won fame within al-Qaeda for producing Osama’s short films, but was believed to have been losing respect within the terrorist community prior to his death after he consistently failed to get even a single one of Osama’s video’s to go viral on YouTube.

At a White House press conference earlier this evening President Obama had the honour of bringing to a close the decade long chase to find and kill Osama. Former US President Bill Clinton started the ball rolling to assassinate Bin Laden back in 1998, and George W prematurely ejaculated ‘Mission Accomplished’ eight years ago to the day, but it was President Obama who had the last laugh.

Obama told the nation “Tonight we are once again reminded that America can do whatever it is we set our mind to. That is the story of our history,” however his comment has raised questions within the game show community as to whether the U.S. governments targeting of Bin Laden was simply their way of ensuring Osama never stole an Americas Funniest Home Videos prize off a more worthy American.

The news of Osama’s death has met with mixed reactions across the nation. Fox News correspondent Mike Hunt was booed out of the room at the White House press conference after questioning the validity of the report of Osama’s death, and New Zealand correspondent Helen Clarke was ridiculed after suggesting that Jack Bauer would have been a far cheaper and faster option for removing Osama.

Several of President Obama’s dyslexic militant opponents had their hopes dashed after joining the protests only to find out that it was Osama that had actually died, leading them to hang their heads in shame and return to their trailer homes to no doubt have sex with their sisters whilst cleaning and oiling their firearms as their nine-toed children ironed their sheets for the weekends next Klan meeting.

It is still unclear as to whether today’s news will bring an end to major combat operations in Iraq and speed up the return of coalition troops, but what is certain is that the world is down one more bad man and that’s great news for freedom.

*NATURAL CAUSES: – adjective

  • 1. Death by coalition troops after starting a war on terror
  • 2. A good way for a bad man to die