IARPA looks to design 'smart' textiles to monitor warfighter health, performance

GettyImages/ Luca Sage

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity wants electronic components it can stitch into textiles that will adapt to changes in the external environment or user input.

To better monitor the health and performance of warfighters, first responders and even professional athletes, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) is looking for smart textiles that adapt to individual users.

The Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems (SMART e-PANTS) program aims to incorporate electronic components into clothing that can sense, process and communicate information on individuals’ location and physical surroundings.

Today's wearables and sensor-laden clothing that collect, process and communicate information on an individuals' heartbeat, temperature or location are too bulky or must be strapped to users' bodies. Textiles offer greater capability, comfort and convenience, but consumers haven't seen much advantage in textile-based systems over the smartphones or other wearable electronics they already carry.

The burgeoning new field of active smart textiles incorporates electronic components -- sensors and/or actuators -- that sense, store, interpret or react to information from their environment. AST clothing can adapt and change functionality in response to changes in the external environment (weather) or user input (motion).

Researchers have been working to transfer the capabilities of wearables into AST, but in its request for information, IARPA says integrating the systems and components into responsive fabrics requires "revolutionary new materials and manufacturing techniques."

For SMART e-PANTS, IARPA is looking for innovative approaches to incorporating the following six components into ASTs.

  1. Sensors that monitor audio, video and geolocation.
  2. Power sources, such as batteries, supercapacitors or energy harvesters that use their surroundings (such as body heat or excretion) as an energy source.
  3. Computation and data storage devices.
  4. Data transfer systems that can send data from an AST to a storage or computation device.
  5. Wires and interconnects that enable connections between AST components in a system.
  6. Haptics that indicate device status to the wearer by changing shape, size, vibration or producing some other discernable user response.

IARPA said it is particularly interested in components that have been successfully incorporated into textiles, integrated into an entire AST system or proven to be flexible, stretchable or washable by some independent testing criteria.

Submissions are due Jan. 31. Read the full RFI here.

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