Apple teams up with the Pentagon to make military wearables

The Pentagon announced the FlexTech Alliance, a group of 162 companies and universities including Apple, Boeing, and Harvard University.

Robert Galbraith/Reuters
Apple, Boeing, and other companies will work in partnership with the Pentagon to produce flexible wearable devices. Here, Apple recruiters speak with job seekers at a military job fair in San Francisco on August 25, 2015.

In spite of dire predictions, the Apple Watch is actually selling pretty well. The company sold 3.6 million watches during the second quarter, more than the iPad or iPhone immediately following their launches.

But Apple isn’t sitting on its hands. In addition to consumer wearables, the company will soon begin making devices for the military in partnership with the Pentagon.

The partnership, announced Friday, includes Apple, Boeing, and 160 other companies and universities. The so-called FlexTech Alliance will work together to produce “stretchable electronics” that could be worn by soldiers or even molded to fit on the outsides of jets and military vehicles.

Technology is developing so rapidly that Defense Secretary Ash Carter has been partnering with consumer tech companies rather than tasking the military with developing its own devices.

The Pentagon has its eye on flexible sensing technology that could be used to monitor soldiers’ status as well as the structural integrity of ships and planes in real time. The military wants to use advanced 3-D printing techniques to create these wearables, a defense official told Reuters.

“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,” Mr. Carter said on Friday.

Carter announced the partnership in a speech given at Moffett Federal Airfield, operated by NASA’s Ames Research Center. The research center is located near Mountain View, Calif., home to Google’s headquarters and one of the most famous parts of Silicon Valley.

The federal government will contribute $75 million toward the research over five years, with private companies managed by the US Air Force Research Laboratory contributing another $90 million and local governments contributing a bit more than $6 million. The money will support the activities of all 162 members of the FlexTech Alliance, which includes groups such as community colleges and polymer companies as well as heavy hitters such as Apple, Boeing, and Harvard University.

The research will be headquartered at the Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Hub in San Jose. President Barack Obama’s administration has built or planned eight additional research institutes – including one focused on further 3-D printing techniques – to strengthen military and private partnerships in a variety of manufacturing sectors.

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