DoD to plunk down $75 million on sensor research

By Eric Wicklund
11:12 AM

The Pentagon is getting into the wearables market.

The U.S. government is set to announce a massive alliance – with $75 million in federal funding – that will explore how sensory technology can be molded to fit into soldiers' clothing to monitor their health, or even attached to the outside of a jet or a ship to keep tabs on structural integrity.

The FlexTech Alliance will be composed of some 162 companies, educational institutes and other groups, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Reuters, ranging from Apple and Boeing to Harvard University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. It will be funded by a $75 million federal grant over five years, with $90 million contributed by companies managed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory and about $6 million contributed by local governments.

"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," Carter said in an excerpt of his speech that was given early to reporters. He was scheduled to announce the initiative during an Aug. 28 speech at Moffett Federal Airfield, operated by NASA's Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

"For those interested in foreign policy and national security, there are lots of interesting challenges and problems to work on," Carter said. "And that's also true for those interested in technology. But the intersection of the two is an opportunity-rich environment."

Officials have said the alliance gives the federal government a chance to pursue new technology – such as mHealth – without being the sole investor, and also leaving the door open for commercial applications.

According to Reuters, the alliance will operate out of the San Jose-based Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Hub. It's the seventh of nine initiatives planned by President Barack Obama's administration to revitalize American manufacturing.