In combat situations, soldiers must make split-second decisions. High stress and poor environmental conditions often mean that the senses are compromised. Sometimes, the person coming toward you through the trees is actually friendly, but without the ability to see or call out to them, accidents often occur.
A group of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is developing special uniforms that could make it possible for soldiers to communicate without talking. The idea is to weave fiber optic-like threads into the fabric. These special threads would build data links that cover the entire body, forming a wireless communication system without adding bulk.
According to MIT, the objective of this project is twofold: “The first is to develop multi-excitation sensing fabrics to enhance situational awareness in the battlefield both ‘outward facing’ towards the environment for threat localization and communication and ‘inward facing’ to provide real time measurements of the physiological state of the Soldier. The second objective will be to utilize piezo and semiconductor fiber technologies to integrate sensors that will provide basic vital signs, wound localization and total energy balance for the Soldier. These two objectives when combined will lead to greater operational efficiency and improve Soldier survivability and efficacy.”
As Wired explains, the basic idea would be to create uniforms that would sense and talk to each other. “Shine a laser designator on someone you don’t recognize. If she’s wearing the same uniform as you, the functional microfibers sewn into it would sense the laser and send a data signal back to your shirt. Same with someone’s voice.” The heat-sensitive properties of the futuristic fibers also show potential for battlefield medicine. It’s possible that they could sense the shape and rate of change of a heat pattern pressed up against the shirt, giving fellow soldiers an idea of wound severity.
The fibers are still under development as current prototypes are still too thick for practical uniform integration. The MIT team plans to spend the next 10 years testing and refining the concept.