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Enhancing the Performance of Advanced Smart Textile Systems in the U.S.

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 information regarding innovative approaches to enhance the performance of Advanced Smart Textile (AST) systems with an emphasis on individual component integration.

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. Integration of these capabilities into textiles for greater capability, comfort and convenience has long been envisioned, free of uncomfortable.

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 have not seen many advantages in textile-based systems over the smartphones or other wearable electronics they already carry.

Active smart textile (ASTs) research is a burgeoning new field where fabrics are designed to adapt and change their functionality in response to changes in their external environment or user input. Unlike passive smart textiles (PST) such as Gore-TexTM which rely on their physical structure to function, ASTs employ energy to power built-in sensors and/or actuators that sense, store, interpret or react to information from their environment.

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:

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

Responses are of particular interest where the components described have been successfully incorporated into textiles, where components have been integrated into an entire AST system (i.e. includes one or more sensors connected to data computation and an energy source required for operation), and/or is proven to be flexible, stretchable or washable by some independent testing criteria. Technologies capable of function for any period are of interest, but longer periods are preferred. Desired operating times range from ten minutes to eight hours.

U.S. government agencies have been looking for innovative solutions in various fields, including healthcare. As reported by OpenGov Asia, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is looking for capability, delivery and market information on a wide spectrum of clinical and administrative areas. The Accelerating VA Innovation and Learning program aims to gather enough information to inform possible procurements and identify interested parties for technologies ranging from advanced manufacturing and digital twins to Artificial Intelligence (AI), immersive-reality simulations and blockchain solutions.

According to the recent request for information, the VA wants insights into the design, development, manufacturing and testing of customised medical devices, such as anatomical models for pre-surgical planning, personalised prosthetics, surgical instruments, personalised dental equipment, assistive technologies and bio-fabrication.

Contractors are expected to provide programmatic and implementation support for solutions as well as assistance with replication and scaling, measurement and analytic support. All deliverables are expected to take the form of monthly progress reports, which will serve as a barometer for both progress in implementation and for insights gained during the process.

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