LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 26: U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter speaks to airmen at Nellis Air Force Base on August 26, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Carter is on a three-day trip through three states to discuss his priorities as Secretary of Defense. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced Friday that the Pentagon will participate DoD’s participation in a new initiative to increase development of flexible, bendable electronics that can be incorporated into everything from ships to jets, and wearable technologies for troops on the ground.
The new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics will be based in San Jose, CaliforniaCalif. The Institute falls under the aegis of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a network of manufacturing research centers set up by the White House in 2013; this is the first such center set up in California.
The Pentagon will chip in $75 million to the cause, with another $96 million coming from non-federal sources.
The FlexibleTech Alliance, which will run the institute, is a partnership 96 companies, 11 laboratories or non-profits, 41 colleges and 14 state organizations. The companies involved in the project cut across the tech, medical and defense sectors. Industry giants such as Apple, Eli Lilly, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Xerox are all represented.
Flexible technologies have become a focus of the commercial sector in recent years as "wearable" tech such as the Apple Watch or the FitBit line of sensors have started to permeate the market. The hHoly gGrail for such companies is thin, lightweight technologies that which could be incorporated into clothing or worn with a minimum of fuss.
For the Pentagon, the benefits could be myriad. Imagine a thin plastic computer worn around the wrist that which could provide live biometric data on a solider in the field, or a laptop that which could be rolled up into a mat and moved from operating centers with ease.
Such technology could also cut the weight aboard ships or planes, providing more space for cargo, while the ability to mold sensors to the outside of a fighter jet could reduce its radar signature and wind resistance.
Since taking office in February, Carter has emphasized the need for greater outreach into Silicon Valley culture, including. That includes the launch of Defense Innovation Unit X, which he announced in April. DIU-X is a Pentagon outpost in Silicon Valley, which will be responsible for working with engineers and industry to bring commercial tech into the Pentagon. As part of his trip, Carter officially opened DIU-X.
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.