Apple to work with US defense department on developing wearable tech

Boeing and Harvard University are among the other 162 companies and organizations that will be part of the FlexTech Alliance

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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with members of the media after delivering remarks at the National Full Scale Aerodynamics Complex in Moffett Field, Calif., Aug. 28, 2015. Credit: Adrian Cadiz/DOD

The U.S. Department of Defense is teaming with Apple, Boeing, Harvard University and other organizations to develop flexible electronics and sensors that could be placed in uniforms or inside ships and aircraft.

Under the plan, a consortium called the Flexible Hybrid Electronic Institute will work on using 3D printing to build bendable, thin electronics that could match the contours of a person's body or a military vehicle.

The technology could find its way into soldiers' uniforms as health monitors or placed in the cramped compartments of a ship or aircraft to measure structural integrity.

But the technology developed by the consortium, whose 162 members include Boeing, Harvard University and Hewlett-Packard, could also have civilian uses. For example, the sensors could be used to develop medical devices for the elderly.

With the institute, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter wants to continue improving the relationship between Silicon Valley and the U.S. government.

"I've been pushing the Pentagon to think outside of our five-sided box, and invest in innovation, here in Silicon Valley and with companies across the country," Carter said Friday during a press conference at Moffett Federal Airfield in Moffett Field, California.

"The reality is, we don't know all the applications this new technology will make possible," he said.

150828 ashton carter moffett field 2149524 Adrian Cadiz/DOD

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with members of the media after delivering remarks at the National Full Scale Aerodynamics Complex in Moffett Field, Calif., Aug. 28, 2015.

Google currently leases the NASA-operated Moffett airfield, where research is conducted in emerging technologies including robotics. The new institute will be headquartered in nearby San Jose.

Relations between Silicon Valley and the U.S. government have been strained since Edward Snowden disclosed Internet surveillance and spying programs in 2013.

But the U.S. Defense Department wants to strengthen its ties with technology companies and learn from them, partly to improve its own cyber security defenses.

In April, Carter visited Stanford University to rebuild trust with the industry and announce new programs to encourage private citizens to contribute to defense technology projects.

Under the plan announced Friday, which will be managed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, the U.S. government will contribute US$75 million over five years while $90 million will come from companies. Funding for the venture will total more $171 million, with local governments contributing the remaining capital.

Hybrid electronics is just one piece in the U.S. Defense Department's efforts to collaborate with industry. Carter also visited the headquarters of LinkedIn, to discuss how the department could compete for technology workers.

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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter speaks with Reid Hoffman co-founder of LinkedIn at the LinkedIn headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., during a visit Aug. 28, 2015 to discuss different technologies that the Department of Defense can learn from.

An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Moffett Federal Airfield.

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