$75 Million Awarded To Silicon Valley Nonprofit Manufacturing Institute

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Apple, Boeing, MIT, and more partner with Pentagon to improve flexible electronics.

WASHINGTON • The Pentagon is building a tech hub in Silicon Valley to help create new kinds of flexible technology that can be used both on the battlefield and for civilian health, smart homes and cities. SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — The Defense Department has awarded a Silicon Valley group a $75 million grant to establish an institute dedicated to innovation in flexible electronics and next-generation Internet connectivity.

A consortium of top tech companies, laboratories, and universities is partnering with the Department of Defense to improve the manufacturing of flexible electronics, which could one day end up in aircraft, health monitors, military tools, or consumer electronics like wearables. A plan unveiled called for a new Manufacturing Innovation Institute – the seventh of nine such institutes planned by the Obama administration in an effort to revitalise the American manufacturing base – to be based in San Jose, California. The department is awarding the consortium, known as the FlexTech Alliance, $75 million over five years, with other sources, including universities, non-profits, and state and local governments, contributing an additional $96 million. According to the White House, the project seeks to foster “American leadership in manufacturing technologies from smart bandages to self-monitoring weapons systems to wearable devices”.

The consortium is composed of well over 100 organizations, with key partners including Apple, Boeing, GE, GM, Lockheed Martin, Motorola Mobility, and Qualcomm, among many others. The new effort comes from a Federal initiative launched few years ago by President Obama, which was designed to help spur innovation in manufacturing.

Team NEO, along with Western Michigan University’s Center for the Advancement of Printed Electronics, will serve as the Midwest Node leader of the U.S. That included the creation of “institutes” where researchers could focus on particular technologies—like the one devoted to 3D printing that opened in Ohio in 2012.

Funds will be distributed to FlexTech members through a bidding process, with field experts from these organizations applying to tackle specific problems. Generally, FlexTech and the DoD want to reduce the size, weight, and cost of electronics, while making flexible electronics viable for use across disciplines. Substantial assets are located in the state, making Ohio a key player in technology development and commercialization,” said Michael Ciesinski, president of FlexTech Alliance.

So what, exactly, is this brain trust going to be working on in San Jose? “Flexible electronics” is an extremely broad category of tech—it encompasses everything from bendy batteries to “connected” fabric. With the region’s established flexible electronics cluster, rich legacy in materials, strong biomedical assets, and workforce development expertise at facilities such as Lorain County Community College, Northeast Ohio is well positioned to contribute to the efforts designated by the DoD. It’s one of many manufacturing innovation institutes that the government has been putting together to promote manufacturing and develop new technology — this one just happens to include some very high-profile partners. It’s easy to imagine why the military wants flexible tech: Wired uniforms for the Army would make it easier to monitor soldiers’ vitals and even communicate with them.

Northeast Ohio FHE MII activities will benefit a wide array of markets beyond defense, including wearable electronics and medical devices, by bringing together companies, universities and R&D centers to co-invest in key technology areas. Or perhaps add deployable PVs to uniforms: As Reuters points out, this kind of tech could be embedded in “ships or warplanes for real-time monitoring of their structural integrity.” Meanwhile, the WSJ describes a plug-in interface for planes: For example, a new “bendable” electronic device for navigation of an aircraft wouldn’t have to be designed specifically for that plane, because such flexible electronics could be crammed into existing cracks and crevices to deliver the same capability—without redesigning the part of the fuselage, for example.

The partnership also hopes to increase the education around flexible electronics so that more researchers will be available to push the field forward in the future. The FHE MII award to FlexTech Alliance is for $75 million in federal funding over a five-year period and is being matched by more than $96 million in cost sharing from non-federal sources.

A printed spacecraft’s low mass, volume and cost offer dramatic potential impacts to many missions That’s a tantalizing look at how flexible, printable electronics could ultimately be used, as opposed to less glamorous applications here on Earth, like bendy OLEDs and connected t-shirts. But there’s also plenty of emerging overlap between NASA and the consumer tech world: PARC, in Palo Alto, is already working with NASA to prototype printed electronics for space. The DoD is making a concerted effort to work with Silicon Valley companies this year, hoping to attract talent away from private enterprise and into the government’s own R&D labs.

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