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Obama Administration to Open Wearable Tech Innovation Hub in Silicon Valley

Wearable technology will soon be omnipresent, and President Obama wants to see that Americans lead the way in innovation and manufacturing of these smart technologies.

Obama’s administration said in a statement Friday that California research consortium FlexTech Alliance, will lead a new Manufacturing Innovation Institute to be based in San Jose, California—the heart of the Silicon Valley—to secure U.S. leadership in the wearable technology space.

The new institute will focus on cutting-edge research in manufacturing hybrid flexible electronics and using high-performance packaging and printing techniques to integrate silicon circuits and sensors on one stretchable or wearable platform.

“Flexible hybrid electronics have the power to unleash wearable devices to improve medical health monitoring and personal fitness; soft robotics to care for the elderly or assist wounded soldiers; and light weight sensors embedded into the very trellises and fibers of roads, bridges, and, and other structures across the globe,” a White House statement noted.

The trend toward wearables was evident at Sourcing at MAGIC in Las Vegas earlier this month, where DuPont shared a prototype of a biometric shirt that tracks human body movements and others discussed the way forward for wearables, like shoes that can learn the wearer’s walking patterns and provide feedback that ensures the next pair accommodates feet prone to pronation or supination, for example.

With the Department of Defense’s award, the new Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics will lead a group of 162 companies, non-profits, labs and universities, including Apple, Hewlett Packard, Applied Materials and Qualcomm. The consortium will bring those companies together with end users like Boeing, General Motors, Cleveland Clinic and Corning, that can embed flexible, bendable electronics into their products—whether that be medical devices or supersonic jets.

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More than $171 million will go toward the innovation center ($75 million in federal funding and more than $96 million in other contributions). This hub makes the seventh of nine manufacturing institutes the Obama Administration has launched, bringing its total investment in building collaborative innovation hubs to $500 million, which has been matched by more than $100 billion in non-federal funding.

“Bridging the gap between applied research and product development, each institute brings together companies, universities, other academic and training institutions, and Federal agencies to co-invest in key emerging technology areas that can encourage investment and production in the U.S.,” the statement noted.

Flexible electronics are at a peak point with companies consistently developing new ways for objects to improve consumers’ lives, and even well-being, so the hub’s launch is well-timed to fuel the fast-growing demand for wearables.

“Integrating ultra-thin silicon components—through high precision handling, printing with conductive and active inks, and pasting on stretchable substrates—flexible hybrid technologies can revolutionize how we wear and monitor our own physiology information to optimize health and lifestyles, while improving the connectivity of devices through the ‘Internet of Things,’” according to the statement.