Apple is getting into the defense business. Sort of.
The Pentagon is partnering with the iPhone maker, Boeing, Harvard University and a slew of other companies and universities to create flexible electronics embedded with sensors.
From wearables for soldiers to self-monitoring weapons systems, bendable electronics hold the potential for all kinds of uses in the military.
For example, a soldier could wear a flexible device that resembles a patch on his skin, which could monitor his health while in the field.
Bendable sensors could also be used on ships, planes and other military vehicles to keep tabs on their conditions.
More than 160 entities, including Apple, back the FlexTech Alliance, which is a public-private manufacturing consortium that has teamed up with the government to develop the technology.
The Department of Defense awarded the alliance $75 million over the next five years to establish and manage a Flexible Electronics Manufacturing Innovation hub, located in Silicon valley, to work on flexible electronics.
More than $90 million in non-federal funds will be contributed by academia, industry and local governments. In total, the institute will receive $171 million.
Manufacturing high-tech flexible hybrid electronics requires high-precision printing and is still very much in its early stages. So it could be awhile before we start to see truly flexible electronics go mainstream.
flexible circuitFlickr/Patrick MansellExample of a flexible-circuit film displayed in the Electronics Group Research facility on Penn State’s University Park campus.
However, advancement is picking up speed and the market for flexible and organic electronics will grow from $29.80 billion in 2015 to $73.69 billion in 2025, according to the research firm IDTechEx.
In fact, many tech companies are already showing signs they are moving in this direction.
In January, CNET reported that Apple was awarded a patent for “flexible electronic devices” that described flexible components both on the inside and outside of the device. Samsung is also getting closer to implementing bendable screens in its mainstream products.