Philly universities about to get a DOD windfall for smart fabrics


Philadelphia universities already deep into research on smart fabrics and wearable technology will earn a major boost from the Department of Defense on Friday that could jump-start the next big things in “smart wear” for health, security, communications, energy, and fashion.

Holding court Friday morning at MIT, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is announcing $75 million in funding for the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America, a nonprofit billed as “a revolutionary fibers and textiles manufacturing innovation institute.”

While MIT is the lead educational institution for AFFOA, a big chunk of the funding will be apportioned to the mid-Atlantic research group chaired by Drexel with regional partners Temple, Philadelphia University, and the MEDstudio at Thomas Jefferson University locally, plus Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh and Penn State in State College.

“Tens of millions” will land in local research coffers, said Aleister Saunders, Drexel’s senior vice provost of research, as the teams also receive infusions from industry partners and venture capital firms.

Largely consumer-facing corporations like Nike, the North Face, Bose, Goodyear, Microsoft, Intel, Flextronics, P&G, Faurecia, DuPont, Corning, and Steelcase are already part of AFFOA.

Venture capital supporters include the Pa. Angel Network, Angel Capital Association, Westbury Partners, North Bridge Venture Partners, the city of Philadelphia’s Office of Manufacturing and Industry, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania via Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

That is expected by the DOD and the White House’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, which has shepherded AFFOA and nine other centers since 2012 to give the U.S. manufacturing sector a technological boost, adding value to exports, supporting the economy, and generating jobs.

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