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Pentagon joins Silicon Valley in 'flexible' tech hub

29 august 2015, 15:08
0
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. ©AFP
US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter. ©AFP

The Pentagon is building a tech hub in Silicon Valley to help create new gadgetry for the supersoldiers of the future as well as tech-savvy consumers, AFP reports.

A plan unveiled Friday called for a new Manufacturing Innovation Institute to be based in San Jose, California to work on new kinds of flexible technology that can be used both on the battlefield or for civilian health, smart homes and cities.

According to the White House, the project seeks to foster "American leadership in manufacturing technologies from smart bandages to self-monitoring weapons systems to wearable devices." 

It brings together the electronics industry and the high-precision printing industry in a "FlexTech Alliance" to create sensors that conform to the curves of a human body or stretch across an object or structure.

The $171 million plan announced by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter will get $75 million in federal funds, and bring together electronics and semiconductor companies like Applied Materials, Apple, United Technologies, Hewlett-Packard and Qualcomm with users of the technology such as Boeing, General Motors, the Cleveland Clinic, Corning and Motorola.

The goal is to make better "flexible" and "bendable" electronic sensors -- the key elements which make objects "smart" and connect to the Internet of Things.

"Flexible hybrid electronics have the power to unleash wearable devices to improve medical health monitoring and personal fitness; soft robotics to care for the elderly or assist wounded soldiers; and lightweight sensors embedded into the very trellises and fibers of roads, bridges, and other structures across the globe," the statement said.

A separate Pentagon statement said these technologies "promise dual use applications in both the consumer economy and the development of military solutions for the warfighter."

  'Investing in innovation' 

The project is the latest effort by the US military to overcome a rift with Silicon Valley and bring the tech sector into its efforts to innovate.

"This is one of my core goals as secretary of defense -- renewing the ties, the bonds of trust between our national security endeavor at the Pentagon, and our wonderful, innovative, open technology community of companies and universities that make up one of America's great strengths," Carter said in comments at Moffett Field in Silicon Valley.

"We're investing aggressively in innovation. We're pushing the envelope with research into new technologies -- on robotics, data science, cybersecurity, biotech, hypersonic engines that can fly over five times the speed of sound, and I could go on."

He added that the program is also "drilling tunnels through that wall that sometimes seems to separate government from scientists and commercial technologists."

Research partners include major US universities such as Stanford; University of California, Berkeley; Harvard; and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The FlexTech team includes more than 160 companies, nonprofits, independent research organizations and universities and will be managed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory.

Carter said he was also stepping up efforts to recruit people with technology skills, and was stopping at the LinkedIn social network "to discuss and learn how DoD can better compete for talented Americans who want to contribute to our mission."

In recent months, the Defense Department and Department of Homeland Security have opened Silicon Valley offices as part of an effort to mend fences after the 2013 leak of classified documents by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden and disputes over issues ranging from encryption to surveillance.


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