Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced Friday that the Pentagon is funding a new venture to develop cutting-edge electronics and sensors that can flex and stretch and could be built into clothing or the skins of ships and aircraft.
The high-tech investment could lead to wearable health monitors that could be built into military uniforms or used to assist the elderly. Or it could foster thin, bendable sensors that could be tucked into cracks or crevices on weapons, ships or bridges where bulky wiring could never fit. The sensors could telegraph structural problems or trigger repair alerts.
Speaking to Silicon Valley leaders and others at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Carter acknowledged the challenges of improving ties with a tech industry that is often distrustful and frustrated with the government.
Because the two sides have different missions and different perspectives, ”sometimes we disagree. And I think that’s okay,” he said. ”Addressing disagreements through partnership is better than not speaking at all.”
Under the new plan, the Pentagon will provide $75 million and the industry, academia and local government will contribute $96 million over five years to a newly created high-tech innovation institute.
The consortium, called the Flexible Hybrid Electronic Institute, will be led by California-based FlexTech Alliance and be made up of 162 companies, universities and other groups including Apple, United Technologies and Hewlett Packard.
This is Carter’s second trip to the Silicon Valley technology hub in four months. In April, he launched a new program called Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental aimed at scouting out promising emerging technologies and improving the Pentagon’s ability to work with high-tech firms.
This project is the seventh such private-public partnership to be announced by the Obama administration. Six are led by the Defense Department, and this one will be managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory.