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Pentagon to invest $75 million in local tech industry

Flexible electronics touted as emerging field

In a bid to fortify United States security and manufacturing, the Pentagon and a consortium of partners are making a $171 million bet that Silicon Valley can emerge as the global leader in the nascent field of flexible hybrid electronics. Announcing the initiative Friday at the NASA Ames Research Center, U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter pledged that research into the technology would be headquartered in the South Bay as part of a renewed effort to strengthen ties between the country's military and its private tech sector.

A press conference to announce the new partnership was held in a symbolic location, the cavernous wind tunnel known as the National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex, which has long been used to test both military and civilian aircraft. The event was Carter's second trip to the Midpeninsula since taking office earlier this year, and he pointed out he was the first U.S. defense secretary to visit the area in almost 20 years.

The U.S. military had a storied history of nurturing technologies that later changed the world, including early research into integrated circuits, packet network systems and computer voice recognition. Carter harkened back to that history to explain why the military needs to make a new push to recruit tech talent and promote innovation.

"I've been pushing the Pentagon to think outside our five-sided box and invest in innovation here in Silicon Valley and in tech communities across the country," he said. "The government helped ignite the spark, but these were places that helped nurture the flames."

Carter kicked off his new outreach to the tech community earlier this year in a speech at Stanford University where he announced the creation of a new office called the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental. The new office, headquartered at Moffett Federal Airfield, is designed to be the Pentagon's liaison for working with local corporations and entrepreneurs.

In that speech, Carter said that the U.S. military had neglected to maintain ties with the tech sector as it focused on wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To revitalize that partnership, Carter on Friday announced the Department of Defense would invest $75 million in a consortium of 162 companies, universities and nonprofits to research flexible-hybrid electronics. Those partners include many of the big names in the area, such as Apple Inc., Lockheed Martin and Stanford University. That seed money would be matched and exceeded by investments from other public agencies and private organizations interested in the flexible-hybrid field, he said.

The new technology holds huge potential. Flexible-hybrid electronics refers to sensors and other electronics produced so they can stretch, bend and be shaped to fit a particular use. That ability holds the promise to open up a wide range of new products across fields, such as computers woven into clothes, cameras housed in contact lenses, and "smart bandages" that can monitor wounds and detect infections. More uses for the technology would surely be discovered as the research develops, Carter said.

Drawing a contrast with past U.S. innovation that ultimately was outsourced overseas, Carter pledged that the government's investment would go toward establishing a domestic manufacturing hub for FlexTech products.

A lineup of Bay Area political heavyweights followed Carter to cheer the announcement, including local U.S. representatives Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren and Mike Honda. Lofgren pointed out that the local tech companies and national security agencies have had a rocky relationship over recent years, particularly over revelations about domestic spying. But that disagreement shouldn't tarnish this new partnership, she said.

"It's true: There has been a lot of suspicions in the Valley related to certain NSA activities," Lofgren said. "This is new day. It doesn't relate to encryption. It relates to manufacturing; it relates to using new technologies in a way that's smart. It's important we celebrate this new day with (Department of Defense)."

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3 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 31, 2015 at 1:20 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

More government boondoggle. How about giving $75 million to schools that need it, and letting all the rich people in Silicon Valley fund their own research?

18 people like this
Posted by Not to Worry
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2015 at 2:41 pm

Don't worry, most of Sillycon Valley does not trust the Pentagon, the Dept of Defense, the Feds or their motives.

6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 31, 2015 at 3:32 pm

$75M over 5 yrs wouldn't cover the cost of one admin for each of the 162 recipients.

Like this comment
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Aug 31, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Grumpy Old Guy is a registered user.

Don't forget that this is how Skynet started.
"I'm baaaaaaccck. . ."

9 people like this
Posted by Citizen 6
a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 31, 2015 at 6:07 pm

@muttiallen said : "More government boondoggle. How about giving $75 million to schools that need it"

You seem poorly informed.
The 2015 Federal Government provides $69 Billion for education already ref: Web Link

As a federal allocation, $79 Million is a bit of a joke, frankly.
For example, The City of PA and SC County are offering $40 Million for a 4.6 acre asphalt slab currently used as a trailer park. ref: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 31, 2015 at 8:28 pm

This is a very valuable step for Silicon Valley. Partnership with the government has provided the majority of satellite systems that provide the whole of the telecommunications network. Silicon Valley's history started with the government's desire to advance science so be happy that more advancements will be part of our current available set of technology advancements.
SU, UC Berkley, Lawrence Livermore Labs and all universities derive great value from Government association and funding for the advancement of scientific endeavors.
That keeps our very gifted people engaged and employed.

18 people like this
Posted by Wait, wait...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 31, 2015 at 8:51 pm

$75 million doesn't go three feet in Silicon Valley! No way will this happen if THAT is all they have to offer! They don't seem to know they are dealing with the land of billionaires.

2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 1, 2015 at 6:37 pm

What interesting sarcasm - try being happy that the US Gov wants to play nice. Most companies have to invest their own money for Research and Development so any financial support is fully appreciated. Partnering with the government on R & D buys you a lot of investment down the road if you are successful in developing a useful product.

13 people like this
Posted by Wait, Wait....
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 1, 2015 at 8:00 pm

The government, PARTICULARLY the DOD and the Pentagon have not played nice historically and have frequently, perhaps always, been dishonest about their motives. At least three generations of Silicon Valley companies have had defense contracts, and been deceived and/ or defrauded ( Lockheed, Martin-Marietta, AMD, Intel, Signetics, Stewart Warner, IBM, HP, infinitum).

Mass layoffs resulted in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, etc.

Why should SV companies trust the government NOW?

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 1, 2015 at 8:35 pm

I'll side with @res1 here. $75M is not much, but it's a very reliable signal that a huge customer is eagerly awaiting the potential products.

10 people like this
Posted by Wait, Wait...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2015 at 7:45 am

$75 million is less than a tenth of what the Pentagon should be offering........unless this is merely a " teaser " amount. Even so, probably no one in tech will take it seriously. The government is just too far out of touch.

Another case of the Right Coast not knowing what the Left Coast is doing.

Like this comment
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 2, 2015 at 9:13 am

Wait - you must have had a bad experience.

Note that in the state of California we have had a very extensive experience with the US Government in the past. However the state does like to shut down military / government facilities so they can make the land more cash advantageous to the state.

And we have many people who think there will never be another war so make it all go away.

Much of what has happened here can be attributed to the local politics. Maybe with more attention to what is going on in the world then people may notice that we are not isolated in this area.

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