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­.s. Textile Industry Turns to Tech as Gateway to Revival

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Fiber for functional fabric.

The U.S. Defense Department is working with universities and nearly 50 companies in an ambitious $320-million effort to push the American textile industry into the digital age.

Credit: Kayana Szymczak/The New York Times

A $320-million project announced on Friday involves a collaboration between textile manufacturers, technology firms, academic institutions, and the U.S. Defense Department to bring the textile sector into the digital era by embedding various sensors and semiconductors into fabrics.

"This is about reimagining what a fabric is, and rebirthing textiles into a high-tech industry," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Yoel Fink.

The Advanced Functional Fabrics of America project is designed to dovetail with the Internet of Things by equipping fabrics with electronics to perform tasks that include monitoring the wearer's health and storing energy.

The Defense Department wants the project to yield new combat uniforms capable of changing color to identify friendly or unfriendly soldiers, or to blot out a soldier's visibility to foes with night-vision goggles, to name two examples.

Project organizers also anticipate establishing about 24 startup incubators to commercialize smart-fabric products that can be manufactured at existing U.S. mills.

Marty Lawrence with apparel maker VF Corporation says the company used to leverage research from universities and its suppliers, instead of supporting an actual research-and-development operation. It has since set up four innovation centers and hired researchers to explore new fabric applications.

From The New York Times
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