iMilitary? Pentagon wants to draft Apple, Boeing for wearable tech research

Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement at Moffett Federal Airfield in California, shown here in a file photo © Telstar Logistics
The Pentagon is seeking partnership with US tech companies to develop sensory gear that could be worn by troops or used for diagnostics on ships and airplanes. Apple, Boeing, and Harvard University are reportedly on board.

The rapid evolution of flexible electronics has compelled the Pentagon to reach out to the corporate world, rather than try and develop the technology in-house, officials said.

"I've been pushing the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided box and invest in innovation here in Silicon Valley and in tech communities across the country," Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the audience at Moffett Federal Airfield on Friday, announcing the initiative. The complex is operated by NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

To this end, the Pentagon will establish the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics, and contribute $75 million in funding over the next five years. Another $90 million is expected from the industry, academia, and local governments, with the total funding commitment estimated at $171 million.

Managing the Institute will be a consortium of 162 companies, universities and other groups, “from Boeing, Apple and Harvard, to Advantest Akron Polymer Systems and Kalamazoo Valley Community College,” Carter said, according to Reuters. The consortium goes by the name FlexTech Alliance.

With the participation of companies “as diverse as Apple and Lockheed Martin” and major research universities like Stanford and MIT, the project represents “the next chapter in the long-standing public-private partnerships between the Pentagon and tech community,” the Department of Defense said in a statement.

The DOD seeks to harness the “innovative culture of Silicon Valley” and accelerate the development cycle of these emerging technologies for military use in the Pentagon’s “world-class laboratories.”

The Institute was launched under the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a program to revitalize US manufacturing, launched by President Barack Obama in 2012. Nine similar institutes have already been established, and six of them are led by the Pentagon.

“Flexible hybrid electronics” is the military parlance for electronic devices printed on flexible, stretchable materials that could be worn by soldiers, or applied to airplanes, ships or vehicles. The Pentagon sees the technology vastly improving its sensor capabilities, form medical monitoring to damage diagnostics.

“The technologies promise dual use applications in both the consumer economy and the development of military solutions for the warfighter,” the DOD release said.

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