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Saving lives with smart fabrics

Fabric innovators convened at MIT recently to bring new significance to the term “smart dresser.” Uniforms made with materials that deliver cool or warm airflow. Augmented-reality headgear that can help field medics quickly identify and diagnose injuries. Lightweight body armor that protects the heart and neck. The three-day hackathon at the MIT Media Lab challenged engineers, designers, researchers, and product developers to create functional fabrics that address the inherent needs of emergency responders in volatile environments such as war zones and natural disaster sites.

The hackathon, hosted by the MIT Innovation Initiative, MD5 (the National Security Technology Accelerator), the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and the AFFOA (Advanced Functional Fabrics of America) gave participants the opportunity to work with leading-edge fabric technologies as well as with tech experts and seasoned entrepreneurs who could help them refine their new-product pitches. Continue reading

How the US Coast Guard met the America’s Cup Challenge

Beset by dense fog and powerful currents, San Francisco Bay is one of the most treacherous waterways in the country. In 2007, a container ship plowed into the Bay Bridge in heavy fog. Five years later, an oil tanker followed suit. So when America’s Cup organizers approached the U.S. Coast Guard in 2012 about hosting the iconic cup races in San Francisco Bay, the prospect furrowed a few brows.

TamaFor Coast Guard Commander Jason Tama, SF ’11, however, it was an opportunity to demonstrate the potential of a promising new technology. A career military officer and recent Brookings Institution Fellow, he has a particular interest in fostering innovation within the military. Working closely with the America’s Cup team, Tama and his Coast Guard colleagues led an initiative to develop a solution to the traffic challenges posed by the race.

“The traffic in San Francisco Bay can get as congested as other California thoroughfares,” Tama points out, “with 130,000 vessels traversing it annually. Waterways are divided by lanes just like automotive highways, and fully delineating those lanes and calling attention to obstacles like the Bay Bridge is a fairly outsized task. Buoys are expensive to place and maintain and tend to drift, especially in deep water.”

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Strategic thinking keeps the U.S. Air Force nimble in a time of volatility

Picture1Do you depend too much on rigid meeting structures? Do you cling to tightly scripted agendas? Give yourself a little time and space to think aloud, says Brigadier General Stacey Hawkins, SF ’11. He calls it “death by PowerPoint”—the tendency to organize all thinking around a prepared presentation, leaving little room for collective, creative brainpower. “A slide show should kick off thinking, not substitute for or define the boundaries of thinking,” he says. “Ideally, carve out at least 20 minutes of an hour-long meeting for open-ended discussion.”

Director of Logistics, Engineering, and Force Protection of the Air Mobility Command, General Hawkins has earned a reputation as a strategic thinker. Now in his 24th year of U.S. Air Force service, he is an alumnus of the legendary School for Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS). As an indicator of their elite skill level, SAASS graduates are frequently referred to as the “500 pound brains” of the Air Force. General Hawkins has been recognized for his efforts with such distinctions as the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star and has served as special advisor to the Vice President of the United States for defense policy and intelligence programs.

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From battleground to hospital room: The challenge of humanizing radar

Radar. The word conjures up images of colossal metal dishes pointed toward impending danger. Anupam Nayak, SF ’10, is out to replace that old black and white picture we now have imprinted on our brains with images of fuzzy slippers and warm blankets. She and Lucas van Ewijk, former head of the radar department at TNO, the leading Dutch research institute, and a small group of entrepreneurs have decided it’s time to free radar from its confined military identity. Radar is a powerful, versatile tool, they believe, and can be a crucial game changer in other realms. Healthcare, for example.

Anupam Nayak SF10“We realized we could install a radar device the size of a business card in a patient’s room—either at home or in the hospital—to monitor respiration and other vital signs,” Nayak says. The idea of continuous patient monitoring blossomed into the startup Applied Radar Technology, which successfully navigated three years of regulatory trials before attracting the attention of the marketplace. She and van Ewijk decided to set up a new entity, VDisha, that can truly expand radar research and commercialization into the healthcare realm. In collaboration with government-funded radar research groups in the Netherlands, their aim is to expand VDisha into a multi-million dollar international initiative, bringing in partners from research groups around the world.

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