Electro-Optic Fabric Concepts for Combat Clothing
By Curt Biberdorf
Special to the American Forces Press Service
NATICK, Mass., April 8, 2002 -- Using a finger of his
soldier determines if water is safe to drink. He takes
up cloth keyboard from his pocket, plugs it in and
a message. Calling for support, his radio sends and
signals using an antenna blended into his uniform.
Through a 1998 Small Business Innovative Research
as Electro-Optic Fabric Concepts for Combat Clothing,
researchers at the Army Soldier Systems Center here
developing textiles that can transport power and data
"After looking into state-of-the-art materials for a
protective clothing applications, it became clear that
potential to achieve a revolutionary improvement in
if electronics- and optics-related technologies could
successfully integrated into textiles," said textile
technologist Carole Winterhalter.
Although the battle dress uniform provides camouflage
environmental protection, it may also become a
electronic network that transports data to and from a
Like a local area network, soldiers' personal area
open new opportunities for battlefield lethality and
survivability. The network could be made to detect
prevent friendly fire casualties by providing positive
identification, and monitor a soldier's physiological
The first step in developing the PAN was also the
first success. Natick and small business partner
Inc. of Waltham, Mass., developed a textile-based
version of a
universal serial bus cable.
Researchers picked the USB because it is a commonly
for instance, in desktop and laptop computers. The
stiff and heavy USB cable -- often the size of a
cord -- was manufactured into a thin, flexible and
cable with flat, low-profile connectors. It can be
into clothing and is currently under consideration in
advanced combat uniform program.
"After testing and evaluation, it actually functioned
normal USB," Winterhalter said. Learning that power
and data can
be sent through textiles, the next step is to
determine how and
where to place the sensors that will transmit
information to the
soldier's computer. She said sensors could be attached
embedded into the material or be the fabric itself,
and could be
located on the inside, middle or outside layer of the
"The technical feasibility was proven � , so now we're
survey other military-based electronic, wearable
currently under development, map the electronic
she said. "Integration of both the electronic network
sensors also presents new design issues and human
of safety, comfort, performance and durability."
The success of the wearable cable led to other
such as a wearable, flexible and textile-based
antenna for a tactical communications radio. The
integrated into the Modular Lightweight Load-carrying
vest. Its advantages over standard 30-inch-long whip
are they conform to wearers' bodies and don't
The antenna vest is a joint development effort with
Communications and Electronics Command, and it
advanced antenna science and technology objective.
developed the antenna and led the integration efforts
CECOM developed the electronic switching devices. A
evaluation of the vest will be conducted this spring
follow-on safety effort in the fall.
The technology developed under the SBIR program that
both the cabling and antenna efforts was patented and
to Malden Mills in Lawrence, Mass. The company wanted
to make an
unusual fleece heat blanket and succeeded by folding
Natick power buses under the fabric bindings at each
connecting them to heating elements made of superfine
fibers knit right into the fleece material.
She said Malden Mills wanted an electric blanket
stiff, bulky wires traditionally used. The new blanket
lighter, more flexible and can be machine-washed and
Plugged in, it warms evenly using the same amount of
power as a
100-watt light bulb.
"It's a successful example of military research in
textiles that's been applied to the commercial
Winterhalter said. "We were amazed and pleased with
the technology was transferred and used."
(Curt Biberdorf is the editor of "The Warrior," the
magazine published by the Army Soldier Systems Center,
Do You Yahoo!?
Yahoo! Tax Center - online filing with TurboTax