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Pentagon teams up with Apple, Boeing to develop wearable tech

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (Reuters) – The Pentagon is teaming up with Apple, Boeing, Harvard and others to develop high-tech sensory gear flexible enough to be worn by people or molded onto the outside of a jet.

The rapid development of new technologies is forcing the Pentagon to seek partnerships with the private sector rather than developing its technology itself, defense officials say.

“I’ve been pushing the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided box and invest in innovation here in Silicon Valley and in tech communities across the country,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said in prepared remarks on Friday.

“Now we’re taking another step forward.”

The new technology aims to use high-end printing technologies to create stretchable electronics that could be embedded with sensors and worn by soldiers, a defense official said, and could ultimately be used on ships or warplanes for real-time monitoring of their structural integrity.

The U.S. government is contributing $75 million over five years, he said, and companies, managed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory, will add $90 million, with local governments chipping in more to take the total to $171 million.

Carter said the FlexTech Alliance comprised 162 companies, universities and other groups, from Boeing, Apple and Harvard, to Advantest Akron Polymer Systems and Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

He was due to announce the award formally in a speech on Friday at Moffett Federal Airfield, which is operated by NASA’s Ames Research Center near Mountain View, in Silicon Valley.

Carter visited California four months ago to create an outreach office to forge ties with the tech community and will visit that office on Friday.

The defense chief also plans to meet the Defense Science Board for a briefing on a study it is doing on the level of autonomy that military drones and robots should have in future.

The Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Hub, which will be based in San Jose, is the seventh of nine such institutes planned by the Obama administration in an effort to revitalize several U.S. manufacturing sectors, several of them defense-related.

The Pentagon’s initial experience with the institutes was in 2012 when it established one to help develop 3-D printing.

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