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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.

Participants also had the opportunity to learn about the revolutionary AFFOA, a consortium of which MIT is a partner, and to learn about new and different ways that fiber can deliver electronics, optics, photonics, and other digital support systems.

The prizewinning products of the hackathon included VITAL, an integrated system that allows for rapid remote triage and transfer of crucial information among soldiers, field medics, MEDEVAC, and hospitals. VITAL’s goal is to incorporate existing technologies into frontier solutions, such as personalized machine-learning algorithms and wearable physiological sensors.

Sharing the top prize was Security Blanket, a multipurpose wrap that will protect refugees and disaster survivors. The outer layer of the double-sided, multifunctional blanket would be made of a durable, water resistant, puncture-proof, and abrasion-resistant material. The inner layer would consist of Tensel microfibers, which are ultra-light, soft, quick drying, highly absorbent, and naturally antimicrobial. The team estimates the cost for the blanket to be about double the cost of a basic fleece blanket (about $10).

Bill Kernick, technology and partnership development executive for MD5 told MIT News that the idea behind the hackathon was “getting the sparks of these ideas moving and creating a relationship with innovators who may have not thought about working with DoD to help solve some really hard problems.” MIT Professor Vladimir Bulović, codirector of the MIT Innovation Initiative, added that the event is a manifestation of one of MIT’s core goals: developing innovations for real-world impact.

Read more about the Hacking Emergency Response hackathon.

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