NextFlex Multi-Domain Operations Wearable Looks to Put Flexible Tech at the Heart of the Army

Department of Defense-funded project turns a uniform shirt into a wearable sensor hub for everything from vital signs to gunshot detection.

Gareth Halfacree
10 days agoWearables / Sensors

A wearable electronics platform built right into soldiers' uniforms could replace the traditional dog tag, not only storing soldiers' IDs and medical histories but tracking physiological and location data too.

Dubbed the Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) wearable, NextFlex's creation is a flexible electronics platform that the company says is small, light, and bendy enough to be built into a shirt — such as the ones worn as part of the US Army's standard combat uniform.

Designed as a central hub for modular sensors, the MDO can pull in a wealth of data — from location information and local environmental conditions to temperature, vital signs, stress and fatigue levels, and even record gunshots for triangulating the source of enemy fire.

"In this project, our NextFlex team demonstrated a leap forward [in] manufacturing capability, which included a successful integration of flexible electronics onto textiles," explains Oxana Pantchenko, engineering program manager for the MDO, in an interview with Popular Mechanics.

"This opens numerous opportunities in the area of wearables and medical devices. One could imagine smart clothing that senses vital signs and communicates alerts to a desired location."

The device is also capable of replacing the traditional dog tag, not only recording base information like a soldier's name and blood type but broader detail including a full medical history — all accessible with a simple scan using a handheld receiver.

NextFlex itself opened its doors in 2015 as a partnership between the Department of Defense and the NextFlex institute, and has been responsible for over 50 agency-funded projects to date — and was granted $154 million more in 2020 for additional flexible electronics projects, including the MDO wearable.

More details on the NextFlex MDO wearable are available in the Popular Mechanics article.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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