As our communications devices migrate from being things that we carry to things that we wear, the U.S. military seems poised to embrace this change with technology that could be integrated into the uniforms of soldiers of the future.
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According to Wired, a group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed microscopic gold fibers that can be woven into Army combat uniforms, allowing the fatigues to not only detect light, heat and sound, but potentially give soldiers the ability to communicate with each other via their clothing.
Although the fiber optic-like threads could eventually transmit information, the fibers do not have any transistors, processors or circuitry.
"These are new kinds of fibers that are themselves devices," John Joannopoulos, the director of the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies, told Wired's Danger Room.
The gold fibers don't actually communicate anything quite yet, although the concept is rooted in technology that demonstrated fibers could be fabricated not just of single-material glass fibers, but a "multiplicity of materials," MIT materials-science professor, Yoel Fink, told Wired. That lead Fink and his team to consider actually turning such fibers into functional devices, for example heat detectors.
Joannopoulos says the millimeter-thick fibers are too thick for a uniform and that he wants to scale them down to 100 microns, which he and his team at the Army's Soldier Systems Center hope to achieve over the next 10 years as they refine and design the concept further.
As for now, Joannopoulos and his colleagues only designed a proof-of-concept jacket using dummy fibers to show that the fibers could be woven into the garment without damaging them.
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Still, the design represents a huge stride toward the future of military uniforms and perhaps, somewhere down the line, civilian clothing.
"Your uniform would transit that information. You wouldn't be talking, it would transmit information: who you are, what time you went down, where the wounds are, what is the estimated severity of the wound, et cetera," Joannopoulos said. "The idea with these fibers is that eventually, we'd like to enable full-body sensing for the soldier."