The Pentagon has awarded a $171 million contract to a California-based consortium to develop wearable electronic devices as part of a push to work more closely with Silicon Valley.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the award for the so-called FlexTech Alliance, a group of companies, nonprofits, labs and universities -- from Apple Inc. to Boeing Co., from the Cleveland Clinic to MIT -- during a speech Friday at Moffett Field in Mountain View, California, which is also home to Google Inc.
The Air Force Research Laboratory will manage the agreement, which combines $75 million in federal funding over five years and more than $96 million from industry, academia and local governments. The money is designed to spur innovation in manufacturing technologies, from smart bandages to self-monitoring weapons systems to wearable devices, according to a press release.
"Flexible hybrid electronics have the power to unleash wearable devices to improve medical health monitoring and personal fitness; soft robotics to care for the elderly or assist wounded soldiers; and light weight sensors embedded into the very trellises and fibers of roads, bridges, and, and other structures across the globe," it states.
The Air Force Research Laboratory has been testing dozens of wearable technologies as part of an experimental program nicknamed "Batman." Lab officials showed off some of the innovative products during recent exhibition at the Pentagon.
The gear included a wrist mount designed to hold a cell phone or tablet computer, gloves with red and fiber-optic lights, and a new-and-improved signal gun for air traffic controllers. They’re all part of a family of wearable or portable technologies for the so-called Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge, or Batman, demonstration program.
According to the Pentagon release, manufacturing electronic components onto stretchable substrates will have many defense-related applications, including the following:
• Revolutionizing electronic wearable information devices to monitor vital signs and physical states to optimize health and lifestyles decisions. • Dramatically improving medical technology delivery—through biomarkers and device implants—which can monitor vital signs for the elderly, those with chronic conditions, and our soldiers during combat. • Enabling embedded sensors to monitor the state of commercial automobiles and aircrafts operating in harsh environments such as undersea pressures or extreme temperatures. • Improving security operations, with applications in light weight robotics, as well as, next generation imaging and sensing capabilities, used across the entire spectrum of land, air, sea, and space-based systems. • Dramatically reducing the electronic systems package size and weight through electronics that conform to complex shapes such as aircraft wings or unattended vehicle platforms, and integrating electronics in clothing and fabrics.After announcing the award, Carter was scheduled to hold his first-ever roundtable of Silicon Valley leaders at Defense Innovation Unit -- Experimental, or DUIx.