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US intelligence dreams of spy pants

A cutting-edge project seeks to create clothing capable of recording audio, video, and geolocation data

The US Office of the Director of National Intelligence has announced it will support the development of a ground-breaking garment incorporating various digital technologies.

The program, called ‘The Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems’ (SMART ePANTS), will be overseen by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) – the agency’s arm that specializes in high risk-high-reward research endeavors, according to the statement released last month.

US officials say the effort is aimed at creating textiles that feel and function like any other piece of ready-to-wear clothing but will also be able to record audio, video, and geolocation data. The ultimate goal is for the technology to “assist personnel and first responders in dangerous, high-stress environments, such as crime scenes and arms control inspections without impeding their ability to swiftly and safely operate.”


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Development contracts were awarded to five organizations, including non-profit institute SRI International, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and companies Arete, Nautilus Defense, and Leidos. According to the Pentagon, Nautilus and Leidos were awarded contracts for the development of SMART ePANTS to the tune of $11.6 million and $10.6 million, respectively, with work expected to be finished by January 2025. The value of the contracts with the other three entities has not been disclosed.

Commenting on the program, Annie Jacobsen, who was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for her book on the Pentagon’s groundbreaking projects, told the Intercept that these and other similar long-shot initiatives pursued by Washington are “like throwing spaghetti against the refrigerator.” “It may or may not stick,” she explained.

The US has already tried to integrate digital technologies into clothing. In 2021, the US Army Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies and MIT developed a programmable fiber capable of storing, analyzing and sharing data about the user’s activities when sewn into a garment, thanks to microscale digital chips.


September 03, 2023 at 08:34PM

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