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Military transforming from wearables into Smart textiles that combine sensing, actuation,communication and processing into the fabric

The past few years have seen the introduction of a number of wearable technologies, from fitness trackers to smart watches but with the increasing use of smart textiles, wearables are set to become ‘disappearables’ as the devices merge with textiles, according to a new report from Cientifica.Unlike today’s ‘wearables’ tomorrow’s devices will be fully integrated into the the garment through the use of conductive fibres, multilayer 3D printed structures and two dimensional materials such as graphene

 

Smart fabric is a traditional fabric with added interactive functionality such as power generation or storage, sensing, radio frequency functioning, human interface elements and/or assistive technology. With the help of nano-materials, nano-biotechnology, and nano-electronics, electronic components such as actuators, control units, and sensors, are embedded into smart textiles. Smart textiles have applications in medical, sports, personal protective equipment, geo-protection, military, and aerospace sectors, where sensing and monitoring are already used and would only be made more efficient if integrated with textiles.

 

The growing need for supportive and performance-enhancing garments has led to the rapid induction of smart textiles in the military sector. Governments across the world are focusing on equipping their soldiers with the latest firearms including sophisticated military clothing that enhances soldiers’ performance during combat operations, according to Technavio’s market research analyst.

 

Electronic textiles not only increase performance, but also add various other functionalities that have never been realised before. The various functionalities where electronic textiles are making inroads include  health monitoring, communication (both wired and wireless), enhanced mobility, survivability, reduction of heat stress, reduction of logistic burdens, camouflage and signature management (Scott, 2005; Wilusz, 2008). Some of the recent functionalities achieved by integration of e-textiles include physiological status monitoring, wearable power supplies, and sensing of environmental conditions as well as the detection of chemical and biological threats.

 

Moreover, the growing inclination towards camouflage optimization among military personnel has augmented the use of camouflage textiles in the military segment. These textiles not only protect the army personnel from visual and infrared light but also heat and sweat, subsequently ensuring that soldiers carry out their operations smoothly.

Military Smart Textiles

Smart Textiles For Military improve performance of soldiers offering them more mobility and fast connectivity. While allowing the soldiers to carry out their operations smoothly; these textiles safeguard the army personnel from visual and infrared light as well as heat and sweat. Worldwide militaries & defense sectors are striving to have their soldiers equipped with the latest firearms and micro electronic materials embedded in lightweight, sophisticated military clothing that enhances soldiers’ performance during battle or war operations. Leverage to this, governments across the world are fully convinced and emphasize upon camouflage optimization of their military personnel which has augmented the uptake of smart textiles in the military sectors.

 

Many countries are now investigating the application of various electronic devices integrated into textiles for military use. The special programme “Soldiers of the Future” was launched by the United States in the 1990s and investigated the benefits of smart textiles for soldiers. Two different training and education initiatives have been sponsored by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the application of advanced textiles for civil protection and defence

 

Constant technological innovations in this market have led to an added range of functionalities and capabilities to smart textiles used in the military sector. Smart textiles are being integrated with adaptive insulation property to enhance warmth in military clothing, sleeping bags, and blankets. Also, manufacturers are developing smart textiles that have the potential for physiological and locational monitoring and energy harvesting.

 

Current research on military textiles includes the improvement in the ballistic protection level (which is the primary requirement), and the developments of new designs with integrated sensors and embedded sensing technologies in clothing, backpacks or tents for other functionalities.

 

Invisible Cloak

Japanese scientist at the University of Tokyo has been developing a hi-tech cloak. This invisible cloak is developed by nanoparticles that reflect light, which makes the wearer look invisible. There’s a camera fitted on the back the of the cloak which records whatever happens behind the wearer and projects the image on the front of the cloak, creating the illusion that makes wearer looks invisible.

Smart fabric can detect and protect against toxic gases

Scientists from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire are developing smart fabrics that can detect the presence of hazardous gases as well as protect the wearer from their effects.

The SOFT e-textile uses metal-organic frameworks (MOFs) to improve detection and protection from toxic chemicals. Known as SOFT (Self-Organised Framework on Textiles), the material is flexible and conductive, yet porous and washable. According to the Dartmouth team, the fabric is capable of real-time gas detection. It’s envisaged that the material would be worn by military and emergency services personnel in conjunction with a haz-mat suit, alerting the user to a breach in the primary barrier.

“By adding this fabric to a protective suit, sensors can alert the user if a chemical is penetrating the hazardous-material gear,” said Katherine Mirica, an assistant professor of chemistry at Dartmouth College.

“This is not just passive protection, the textile can actively alarm a user if there is a tear or defect in the fabric, or if functional performance is diminished in any other way.”

The smart fabric works by using textile-supported electronic sensors based on materials known as metal-organic frameworks, or MOFs. In their research, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the Dartmouth team showed that the material could identify the exhaust pollutant nitric oxide, as well as the poisonous and corrosive hydrogen sulphide. The researchers claim that the textiles can not only sense these gases, but are also capable of capturing and filtering the dangerous toxins.

“Metal-organic frameworks are the future of designer materials, just like plastics were in the post-WWII era,” said Mirica. “By integrating the MOFs into our SOFT devices, we dramatically enhance the performance of smart fabrics that are essential to safety and security.”

While the technology requires further development before it can be used in wearable systems, the researchers believe the fabrication method has the potential to be extended into other systems, producing a range of new smart textiles with tunable properties.

Rise of the iSoldier

BAE Systems has created its Broadsword range of devices that revolve around a vest called Spine. Spine uses so-called e-textiles to wirelessly charge military equipment – and this energy use can be monitored using a smartphone app. Eight devices can be plugged in and charged at any one time, and the vest’s electrically conductive yarns can also be used to charge other gadgets wirelessly. BAE’s inductive seat charger transfers energy from a vehicle to the vest and all of this energy use can be monitored using a smartphone app.

 

The squaddies’ uniform was thus turned into a power- and data-distribution system containing a single battery pack, eliminating trailing wires and the need to spend 40 minutes at the end of each day checking whether the AA cells need replacing. The grant also allowed them to make the technology less conspicuous, using electromagnetic screening to prevent soldiers being detected by enemy troops while wearing their super-charged uniform.

 

Spine was developed by the London-based defence firm with Surrey-based Intelligent Textiles Design. It can power up and transfer data to and from equipment such as radios, cameras, smart helmets and torches, as well as smart weapons – effectively working as a portable hotspot.

 

BAE joins ITL to deliver a revolutionary piece of new wearable technology which can turn clothing into networked technology

BAE has entered into exclusive partnership with world-leading e-textiles developer, Intelligent Textiles Limited (ITL), to deliver a revolutionary piece of new wearable technology which can turn clothing into networked technology. Broadsword® Spine® is an e-textile based layer that when added to a user’s clothing creates an invisible electronic network and power supply, by using conductive fabrics instead of wires and cables. With the innovative network, users can plug vital electronic devices straight into their vest, jacket or belt and have them instantly hooked into power and data via USB – all delivering an estimated 40 per cent weight saving per user versus alternative solutions.

 

“The problem a soldier faces at the moment is that he’s carrying 60 AA batteries [to power all the equipment he carries],” said Thompson. “He doesn’t know what state of charge those batteries are at, and they’re incredibly heavy. He also has wires and cables running around the system. He has snag hazards – when he’s going into a firefight, he can get caught on door handles and branches, so cables are a real no-no.”

 

Working together, our Company and ITL will be ready to deliver these lightweight devices to personnel including the armed forces, fire and rescue services and law enforcement, all of whom rely on carrying electronic equipment and having a durable power supply for long periods of use.

 

Broadsword® Spine® is also designed to be robust enough to operate in the harshest environments, including being resistant to water, fire, humidity and shock – and can be easily recharged in the field via in-vehicle charging points or through simple battery replacements.

 

Military Smart Textile market

Technavio’s market research analyst predicts the global smart textiles market in the military sector to grow at a CAGR of close to 10% between 2016 and 2020. The active smart textiles segment dominated the market and accounted for the highest market share in 2015. These second-generation smart textiles accommodate sensors that can sense the external environmental changes and actuators, which act in accordance to the stimuli sensed.

 

Active smart textiles have the shape memory property and are chameleonic, water-resistant, vapor permeable and absorbing, and heat storage and thermos regulated fabrics. The camouflage technique that these textiles offer has prompted several countries to focus on the R&D of fiber optics, thermal sensitive materials, photosensitive materials, conductive polymers, and chemical-responsive fabrics.

 

Smart Textiles for Military Market is advancing rapidly with constant technological innovations that have led to an added range of functionalities and capabilities to smart textiles used in the military sector. Today, Integrated with adaptive insulation property smart textiles output intensified warmth in fabrics used in military sectors such as military clothing, sleeping bags, and blankets.

 

The Americas dominated the global market and occupied the maximum market share during 2015. The security requirements of the Americas are rising considerably with the increasing threats from various militant groups along with territorial disputes. Such security concerns have prompted countries like the US, Canada, Mexico, and other Latin American nations to increase their focus on offering the soldiers wearables equipped with electronic devices to boost their situational awareness. The need for protective clothing for the troops and the measures adopted to equip them with enhanced high-tech products will further contribute to the growth of the market in the Americas.

 

Leading vendors in the military textile market are -BAE Systems , Midé Technology, Ohmatext,  TenCate, W.L Gore & Associates. Other prominent vendors in the smart textiles market in the military sector include Advanced Fabric Technologies, BeBop Sensors, Directa Plus, DuPont, Intelligent Textiles, and Outlast Technologies.

 

 

References and Resources also include:

 

 

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