Scientists at the Army Institute for Soldiers Nanotechnologies have created a programmable fiber that can ultimately provide power and transmits data. It was designed to sense, analyze, store, and infer activity when sewn into a piece of clothing. When used to produce a soldier’s uniform, it could have the ability to generate power, provide vital information about the wearer’s physiology and environmental exposures. It might also provide the soldiers location to a team, and alert someone if they incur an injury.

The technology consists of placing hundreds of square silicon microscale digital chips into a preform that creates the polymer fiber. By precisely controlling the polymer flow, they created a fiber with continuous electrical connection between the chips over a length of tens of meters.

The fiber is flexible and very thin, thin enough to pass through a needle, be sewn into fabrics, and washed at least 10 times without breaking down.

The fibers could sense and alert soldiers in real time to health changes. If they experience respiratory decline or an irregular heartbeat the information could be transmitted to the external device. During training exercises muscle activation or heart rate data could be shared. They could also provide data on any toxins soldiers are exposed to, the length of time they are exposed, and monitor any effects those toxins have on their physiology.

The fiber is controlled by a small external device, so the next step will be to design a new chip as a microcontroller that can be connected within the fiber itself.

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