Ashton Carter, the US Secretary of Defence, on Friday August 28th allocated $75 million of government money to a consortium of cutting-edge research and development firms and organisations for the purpose of designing an all new and advanced type of sensor, strong and flexible enough to be moulded onto the skin of a warplane or worn into battle by soldiers.
Carter, speaking at NASA’s Ames Research Centre in Mountain View, California, stated that the rapid development of new technologies around the globe is forcing the Pentagon to seek partnerships with private companies, instead of developing its own technology, as it has done in the past.
He 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… This is an emerging technology that takes advanced flexible materials for circuits, communications, sensors and power and combines them with thinned silicon chips to ultimately produce the next generation of electronic products.”
FlexTech Alliance, a new collection of 162 companies, research organisations and learning institutions, including Apple, Advantest Akron Polymer Systems, Boeing, Harvard University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College, among others, will be working towards the development and manufacture of flexible hybrid electronics, designed to be embedded with sensors and twisted, stretched and bet to fit whatever platform they are required to work with.
Under the guidance of the US Air Force Research Laboratory, the consortium will add another $90 million to the pledge from the Department of Defence, while local governments are expected to raise another $171 million over its next five years of funding.
The Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Hub, to be based in San Jose, is just one of several such institutes planned by the current US administration in an effort to revitalise its national manufacturing base. The first institute was established in 2012 to help with advancing the development of 3-D printing, which processes will now be used in the creation of these specialised stretchable electronics.
The ultimate goal of developing this technology would be to allow real-time monitoring of battleships’ or warplanes’ structural integrity during use, as well as observing stress levels, heart rates and potential damage or wounding on actual soldiers in combat, allowing for earlier, better informed and more accurate treatment for those who need it.
On the same day, Carter also met with the Defence Science Board to discuss the increasing role of drones and robots in the military. This equipment, working with varying degrees of autonomy, is currently used in many different aspects of warfare, including: Surveillance: reconnaissance; ground troop re-supply; and for several other long distance and menial tasks.