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Department of Defense Advances Wearable Medical Devices Market

By Vera Gruessner

- A major segment of the mobile health field that’s making an impact on the healthcare industry is the development of wearable medical devices. From smartwatches to biosensors in the form of skin patches, the market for wearable medical devices has been growing as new innovations are created around the clock.

Wearable Medical Devices

The Department of Defense stated in a news release that it will be partnering with academia centers and the private sector to push forward the manufacturing of wearable medical devices.

In particular, the Department of Defense along with the Obama administration will be offering an award to a group of 162 companies, nonprofits, and colleges for the development of flexible, hybrid electronics. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter made the original announcement.

The reward is in the form of the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics. It is meant to bring about the collaboration between experts in the wearables market from the academics to government and industry. This gathering of top experts should push the country forward in the creation of flexible, hybrid electronics over the coming years.

“Immediately following Secretary Carter’s announcement of the FlexTech Alliance award, he will hold the first ever roundtable of Silicon Valley leaders at Defense Innovation Unit – Experimental (DIUx). Secretary Carter announced his plans to launch this outpost at Moffett Federal Airfield for the department to work with a variety of corporations and entrepreneurs at a speech at Stanford University in April 2015,” the news release stated.

The U.S. Air Force Research laboratory (AFRL) will be managing the distribution and management of the Institute. The cooperation or agreement for the creation of the Manufacturing Innovation Institute will receive $75 million in funding from the Department of Defense over the next five years.

Additionally, the program will receive matched funding of $90 million from industry groups and local governments. The Department of Defense is essentially seeking out companies in the industry to help manufacture technologies instead of managing it inside government agencies.

It’s important to note that developing flexible, bendable electronic biosensors can play a key role in enabling better healthcare delivery. Stretchable, wearable medical devices can improve remote patient monitoring as well.

NASA also commented on this announcement in a press release. Essentially, the FlexTech Alliance will be commandeering the ship and moving forward with developing bendable and wearable medical devices. The original announcement took place at the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex (NFAC) wind tunnel facility at NASA’s Ames Research Center.

“Our NASA center is known for its innovative collaborations, and we are honored that the Department of Defense selected Ames and our unique Silicon Valley facilities to host this announcement,” Dr. Eugene Tu, director of NASA's Ames Research Center, stated in the press release. “We look forward to utilizing future aerospace applications from this partnership in such areas as wearable biosensors, soft robotics and distributed sensors for system health.”

There are a wide variety of applications for wearable medical devices and flexible electronics in the healthcare field. These applications include remote patient monitoring, the wellness and fitness space, and soft robotics in elderly care or on the battlefield to help wounded soldiers.

Additionally, these type of flexible, hybrid electronics can impact the building of bridges, roads, and aircraft. Clearly, the development of bendable devices can impact a variety of fields and improve the functions of society as a whole.

"This is an emerging technology that takes advanced flexible materials for circuits, communications, sensors and power and combines them with thinned silicon chips to ultimately produce the next generation of electronic products," U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated at the NASA conference.

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