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SMART ePANTS: U.S. Intelligence commits to invest $22 mn for wearable ‘spy’ tech

Imagine your regular clothes but with secret powers. The U.S. Intelligence is investing $22 million into a wearable tech project called SMART ePANTS. The computerized garments will ‘feel, move and function’ like regular clothes but include capabilities to capture audio, video, and geolocation data.

‘The Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems (SMART ePANTS) program represents the largest single investment to develop Active Smart Textiles (AST) that feel, move, and function like any garment,’ IARPA shared in a press release.

Figure: Officials plan to produce shirts, pants, socks, and underwear with tiny cameras, sensors, and microphones that behave like threading and energy harvesters powered by the wearer’s body

The SMART ePANTS program aims to develop performance-grade, computerized textiles that deliver unparalleled flexibility, durability, and washability, akin to everyday attire. These innovative garments are poised to enable Intelligence Community personnel to capture crucial information from their surroundings hands-free, eliminating the need for unwieldy, discomfort-inducing devices.

Designed to function seamlessly in high-stress, high-risk environments such as crime scenes and arms control inspections, SMART ePANTS represents a quantum leap in wearable surveillance technology. This advancement promises to bolster the capabilities of first responders and intelligence personnel, allowing them to operate swiftly and safely without impediment.

The innovative clothing will improve the capabilities of personnel working in dangerous or high-stress environments, such as crime scenes and arms control inspections.

As a former weapons inspector myself, I know how much hand-carried electronics can interfere with my situational awareness at inspection sites.

In unknown environments, I’d rather have my hands free to grab ladders and handrails more firmly and keep from hitting my head than holding some device.

Dr Dawson Cagle, SMART ePANTS Program Manager

The investment in SMART ePANTS follows a pattern of high-risk, high-reward projects undertaken by IARPA, a counterpart to the renowned Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). While some projects have yielded groundbreaking results, others have faced setbacks—a testament to the inherently speculative nature of pioneering technology.

Contracts have been given to five groups, including big players Nautilus Defense and Leidos, as well as respected schools like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SRI International, and Areté. Although the amounts for three of these contracts have not been made public, the fact that these strong partners are involved shows the great potential of SMART ePANTS.

Figure: The program aims to provide surveillance clothing to government personnel and first responders. Cameras could be placed inside fabrics to go undetected (pictured), Courtesy: Dailymail

The emergence of SMART ePANTS gives rise to valid concerns about government biometric surveillance. With the capability to detect substances on a person’s skin, inquiries about privacy and civil liberties understandably come to mind. IARPA has promptly addressed these concerns by affirming its unwavering dedication to robust privacy protection protocols, along with continuous compliance reviews at every stage of the research process.

In addition to national security, private companies like Meta (formerly Facebook) are also exploring smart clothing technology. The intelligence community’s significant investment matches a larger trend of investigating advanced, interconnected technologies.

This effort, similar to the previous development of technologies like the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS), shows the U.S. Intelligence Community’s commitment to leading in technological advancements. TALOS focused on a powered exoskeleton, while SMART ePANTS represents a more subtle but equally significant step forward into the future.

As SMART ePANTS leads the way in surveillance wearables, the technology world is changing quickly. The combination of smartness, fabrics, and advanced technology will not only change how we keep our country safe but also how we live our daily lives.

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