Pentagon joins Silicon Valley in ‘flexible’ tech

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama Administration To Open Wearable Tech R&D Center In Silicon Valley.

The Pentagon is seeking partnership with US tech companies to develop sensory gear that could be worn by troops or used for diagnostics on ships and airplanes. On Friday, defense secretary Ash Carter will announce that the Department of Defense is investing $75 million in a “flexible hybrid electronics” innovation center in Silicon Valley; in addition to the Pentagon’s contribution, the new institute will receive more than $90 million in funding from academia, corporate interests, and local governments for a total of about $171 million. Speaking to business leaders and others at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Carter acknowledged the challenges of improving ties with a tech industry that is often wary, distrustful and frustrated with the government. This is only the latest of nine big-budget R&D centers established by the White House, which are focusing on 3-D printing, lightweight metals, non-silicon semiconductors, and other tech-centric areas.

Managing the Institute will be a consortium of 162 companies, universities and other groups, “from Boeing, Apple and Harvard, to Advantest Akron Polymer Systems and Kalamazoo Valley Community College,” Carter said, according to Reuters. And I think that’s OK,” he said. “Addressing disagreements through partnership is better than not speaking at all.” Under the new plan, the Pentagon will provide $75 million, and the industry, academia and local government will contribute $96 million over five years to a newly created high-tech innovation institute. Obama has been hiring tech talent away from Silicon Valley for some time, as Fast Company examined in a cover story earlier this summer: Todd Park, the former chief technology officer of the United States, and Mikey Dickerson, who led a team of 60 engineers at Google and supervised the crew that fixed the website last year… have been steadily recruiting an elite digital corps—a startup team, essentially, built mainly from the ranks of top private-sector companies—and embedding them within the U.S. government.

Their purpose is to remake the digital systems by which government operates, to implement the kind of efficiency and agility and effectiveness that define Silicon Valley’s biggest successes, across everything from the IRS to Immigration Services. “We’ve got about 140 people in the network right now,” Park says of the digital team. “The goal is to get it to about 500 by the end of 2016.” Whether Park and Dickerson can find enough superstar techies to take a flyer on this risky project is just one of many concerns. The DOD seeks to harness the “innovative culture of Silicon Valley” and accelerate the development cycle of these emerging technologies for military use in the Pentagon’s “world-class laboratories.” The Institute was launched under the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, a program to revitalize US manufacturing, launched by President Barack Obama in 2012. This is Carter’s second trip to the technology hub in four months, as he works to get the Defense Department to increasingly tap into the region’s high-tech expertise and workforce. “Given what we’ve already done, there’s truly no limit to what we can achieve together,” said Carter. “That’s why 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.” He said the flexible electronics have enormous potential for the military, even though “we don’t know all the applications this new technology will make possible — that’s the remarkable thing about innovation.” But he pointed to the potential to give wounded warriors smart prosthetics that could have the full flexibility of human skin or commercial applications that could improve diagnostic X-rays to make breast cancer tests more accurate and less painful. There are bigger questions, too, such as whether a small number of technologists can actually bring about vast changes within the most massive, powerful, bureaucratic regime on earth.

During his first trip to Silicon Valley in April, Carter launched a new program called Defense Innovation Unit Experimental aimed at scouting out promising emerging technologies and beefing up the Pentagon’s ability to work with high-tech firms. The Pentagon sees the technology vastly improving its sensor capabilities, form medical monitoring to damage diagnostics. “The technologies promise dual use applications in both the consumer economy and the development of military solutions for the warfighter,” the DOD release said.

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