The Massachusetts Institute of Technology will partner with the Pentagon to create a research institute focused on wearable technologies, smart fibers and connected textiles, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Friday.
The Department of Defense will fund the $75 million deal organized by MIT between 89 different universities, businesses and start-ups. The institute aims to bring the manufacturing and textile industries into the next phase of the digital revolution and develop clothing and wearable fabrics with sensors, LEDs, solar cells or other modern tech, Carter said.
Non-federal investments will also bring more than $240 million to the project, making its total $317 million.
“One of my core goals has been building and in some ways rebuilding the bridges between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon and the wonderful innovative, open technology community of companies and universities that make up one of America’ great strengths,” said Carter, who announced the partnership in a speech at MIT.
The Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Alliance at MIT will lead the new effort and is the sixth manufacturing innovation hub awarded by the Obama administration through DoD, according to the press release.
AFFOA is working to create the “the Internet of Fabrics,” MIT President Rafael Reif said. In the coming years, it will integrate nontraditional technology into fibers and yarns, to both improve manufacturing and allow clothes to use internet devices.
The possible are near infinite, he said. Imagine fibers spun together with circuits and sensors that could allow clothing to regulate temperature change color, or take photos. In defense, smart clothing could even alert officials to possible health issues in soldiers or first responders, to know when to administer medicine or antibiotics. Paratroopers could use the tech to instantly know if their parachutes have any tears.
With economic models expecting 50,000 textile jobs to be lost by next year, Reif said, the DoD and MIT are hoping their investment could bring in more jobs to the industry.
“The reality is, that as I stand here, we don’t know all the advances this new technology is going to make possible,” Carter said. “The commercial applications of technical textiles will be just as transformative, if not more so, given the drive towards wearables and the internet of thing.”
“The future that AFFOA envisions would even make science fiction writers sit up and take notice,” Reif said.
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