US Defence Secretary Ash Carter awarded $75m (£48.7m), to help a consortium of high-tech firms and researchers develop electronic systems packed with sensors flexible enough to be worn by soldiers or moulded onto the skin of a plane, on 28 August. Carter said the funding for the manufacturing institute would go to the FlexTech Alliance
FixTech is a consortium of 162 companies, universities and groups, including Boeing, Apple, Harvard University, Advantest Akron Polymer Systems, and Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The group will work to develop and manufacture of flexible hybrid electronics, which can be embedded with sensors and stretched, twisted and bent to fit inside aircraft or other platforms where they will be used.
"This is an emerging technology that takes advanced flexible materials for circuits, communications, sensors and power and combines them with thinned silicon chips to ultimately produce the next generation of electronic products," said Carter.
The consortium, which will be managed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory, will add $90m to the federal money. Local governments will also chip in, boosting the group's total five-year funding level to $171m.
Defence officials say the rapid development of new technologies around the globe is forcing the Pentagon to seek partnerships with the private sector, rather than developing most of its technology itself, as it once did. "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," Carter said.
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 revitalise the US manufacturing base. The Pentagon established its first institute in 2012 to help advance the development of 3D printing.
The institute aims to use high-end printing technology to create specialised, stretchable electronics that could be embedded with sensors and worn by soldiers. The technology could also integrate sensors on the surfaces of ships or warplanes, allowing real-time monitoring of their structural integrity.