US spy agency spending R422 million on smart ePANTS

The US government is spending $22 million (R422 million) to develop “smart” clothing that can conduct surveillance on the wearer and their surroundings, The Intercept reports.

The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) — the advanced research and development arm of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — recently announced the project aimed to make performance-grade, computerised clothing a reality.

The project has been dubbed the Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems (Smart ePANTS) and is the largest single investment to develop smart textiles that feel, move, and function like regular garments.

“Resulting innovations stand to provide the intelligence community, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies with durable, ready-to-wear clothing that can record audio, video, and geolocation data,” the National Intelligence stated.

“This eTextile technology could also assist personnel and first responders in dangerous, high-stress environments, such as crime scenes and arms control inspections, without impeding their ability to swiftly and safely operate.”

Several institutions will be involved in the project, including:

  • SRI International
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Nautilus Defense
  • Leidos, Inc.
  • Areté

The MIT Lincoln Laboratory and Advanced Functional Fabrics of America will act as test and evaluation partners to ensure the programme stays on track.

Smart ePANTS programme manager Dr Dawson Cagle said the “first-of-its-kind” effort will bring much-needed innovation to the field of Active Smart Textiles.

“To date, no group has committed the time and resources necessary to fashion the first integrated electronics that are stretchable, bendable, comfortable, and washable like regular clothing,” Cagle said.

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US spy agency spending R422 million on smart ePANTS