DOD chips in for $171M Silicon Valley flexible electronics project

The Pentagon--Courtesy of Patrickneil, CC BY-SA 2.0

The U.S. Department of Defense is sinking funds into a Silicon Valley initiative aimed at creating "flexible" electronics, furthering the agency's commitment to investing in innovative devices that could help soldiers on the battlefield.

As The Wall Street Journal reports, the DOD is contributing $75 million to a San Jose, CA-based "Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Hub" as part of an Obama administration effort to spur development of emerging technologies. The private sector will also chip in funding, bringing the total investment in the project to more than $171 million, according to VentureBeat.

The DOD, along with a group including companies such as Apple ($AAPL), nonprofits and labs, will work together to create lower-cost, more efficient manufacturing processes for flexible hybrid electronics, or materials that combine multiple electrical circuits into one bendable, wearable platform, Venture Beat reports. Insights gleaned from the collaboration could allow companies to embed the flexible electronics "into everything from medical devices to supersonic jets," the White House said in a statement seen by the WSJ. One potential application could be using the devices to monitor a soldier's health on the battlefield.

"We're making the equivalent of a strategic bet on an important technology that we think could have broad applications for the future," a senior defense official told the newspaper.

And as the WSJ points out, flexible hybrid electronics is the kind of technology the DOD has been eyeing for a while. The agency has already invested in med tech companies with innovative devices for the battlefield, inking a $430 million contract with robotic surgery outfit Intuitive Surgical ($ISRG) earlier this year. Last month, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced that it would funnel $7 million into DEKA Innovative Solutions to help the company develop its prosthetic arm system.

The project also builds on a technology initiative that the DOD launched earlier this year. In April, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced a joint project called the "Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental", or DIUx, that is meant to facilitate partnerships between northern California tech firms and the agency.

Meanwhile, the DOD is also working with the Obama administration on six other private-public initiatives geared toward technological advancement, including a project in Youngstown, OH, for a 3-D printing technology hub.

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