Smart textiles are a new generation of innovative material offering very interesting multifunctional properties such as being integrable into uniforms and platforms. They therefore have drawn the attention of the defence sector.
Against this backdrop, EDA has incorporated smart textiles into the so-called Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) of its capability technology group (’CapTech’) devoted to Materials & Structures, and a specific Technology Building Block (TBB) was set up for them. Furthermore, other EDA CapTechs, such as those dealing with CBRN, Human Factors and Ground Systems, have taken initiatives related to smart textiles.
In January 2019, EDA launched a project on “Smart TextILEs in defence: looking at the soldiers of the future” with two participating Member States, Spain and Portugal. The practical implementation of this project, called STILE, was assigned to a consortium led by the Spanish research institute AITEX, in collaboration with two Portuguese organisations, CITEVE and INEGI.
The objective of STILE is to lay the foundation for a future ‘European Multifunctional Smart Textile’ for defence able to respond to a certain number of requirements in terms of functionality, integration, comfort and weight. More precisely, it was aimed to define a roadmap for developing a system offering several functionalities in a textile substrate, and to come up with a proof of concept that integrates various functionalities with state-of-the-art technologies.
The initial analysis undertaken under the project confirmed that Europe lacks multifunctional smart textile capabilities in defence. Hence the importance for the STILE project to produce a proof of concept of multifunctional smart textiles able to integrate in a single model all the afore-mentioned features and requirements.
Preliminary results of the project give already an overview of the current R&T development and technology needs as well as the challenges laying ahead to overcome those needs. The methodology used was based on the technical knowledge of the consortium members and the collection of data coming from multiple sources, including a technology foresight workshop on smart textile technologies organised at EDA, a survey done among the Agency’s ‘Materials’ CapTech experts as well as various meetings with experts.
A medium to long-term technology roadmap was established with a set of actions required to develop an innovative smart textile for future defence applications, including the incorporation of modern design and development methodology by the textile industry. For this purpose, two simulation models were developed to evaluate the main concepts regarding the thermal protection capacity of the garment and the thermal signature under different ambient conditions.
Proof of concept
As a first step of the roadmap, a multifunctional smart textile prototype – the first of this type and quality in Europe – was produced with the following functions (each of them tested):
- signature management: the textile has multispectral camouflage in both static and moving positions
- CBR threats monitoring: the smart textile detects the presence of hazardous agents (e.g. H2S, NO2, Cl2) and provides warning to the soldier
- improved mobility, using various textile structures as well as seamless technology in body mapping concept
- flame retardancy, water and dirt repellence and anti-mosquito solutions
- physiological monitoring: the smart textile measures the heart rate and provide info to the soldier
- temperature regulation (cooling and heating): the smart textile is able to control the body temperature through monitoring of the ambient temperature
- communication: the smart textile provides all parameters, such as the heart rate, to the soldier via an app in the smartphone, embedded in the system. In addition, the data can be transferred to the operating centre, if needed.
Testing in the field
From June 2020 onwards, the STILE prototype will be further tested in the field to make sure that it fulfills the stringent military requirements. At the end of the project (expected in May 2021) an exhibition centre will be organized to reveal the fully tested STILE model to the European defence and dual use community, reaching out the potential users in the European Ministries of Defence.