The US government has launched a program called SMART ePANTS, which aims to develop networked clothing. This initiative, promoted by theIntelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), aims to integrate advanced technologies into clothing to improve the safety and functionality of soldiers, first responders and other professionals.
The US government's investment in connected clothing
The worlds of fashion and technology are about to collide in a way never seen before. IARPA, the agency that manages research and development for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence of the United States, announced the launch of a program called Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems, more commonly known as SMART ePANTS.
And it seems to take it damn seriously: already last year, the institution issued a Request for Information (RFI) to solicit proposals for the creation of active smart clothing. Suits that will have the ability to protect soldiers, first responders and others, "by detecting, processing and communicating information about the location of individuals and the surrounding environment (including recording audio and video)".
The vision behind SMART ePANTS
The director of the SMART ePANTS program, the Dr. Dawson Cagle, outlined the project's goal in a video released in July. The idea is to combine four established technologies - power sources, sensors, computers/memories and interconnects/haptics - into a single garment. In other words, transforming an ordinary pair of trousers into an advanced technological device.
With research contracts already awarded to giants such as SRI International, MIT, Nautilus Defense, Leidos and Areté, it's clear that there are high expectations for this program.
The technological goal
The goal of the SMART ePANTS program is not simply to extend a phone's interface to the clothes we wear. IARPA wants to integrate components, similar to those inside a phone, directly into the fabric of clothing, and believes it can make this a reality within three and a half years.
Honestly, I don't know if that will be the case. The realization of smart fabrics presents numerous technical challenges. I wouldn't know where to start if I had to make a list of obstacles to overcome: I don't know, creating long-lasting wiring and interconnections between components that can withstand stretching, bending and washing? Fabric-friendly power sources, haptic interfaces that behave like fabric? Computers and memories that can be placed on a textile substrate instead of a rigid board?
You continue. This, however, also gives you the measure of how stimulating such a challenge is.
Connected clothing: wearing the future
We know this well: unfortunately even in this case the first field of application is the "foul" military sector. It is equally true, however, that the main objective of equipping clothing with the ability to capture audio, video and location data will also have implications for the civilian sector.
IARPA foresees among these the advent of flexible and washable computing components, as well as wearable sensors. "When taken together, an integrated platform like this would have huge implications for many sectors. I think medical, or sports.
The "dirty work" on SMART ePANTS prepares a future in which our clothes are not just a means to express our style, but become real technological devices. They will allow us to better understand our state of health and measure our performance. And they will protect us in case of an accident.
The future is coming. For all sizes.