British military uniforms will soon be getting an upgrade that turns the fabric they're made from into a central battery. The Centre for Defence Enterprise (CDE) has showcased a uniform made from conductive "e-textiles," which can route power and data through conductive yarn. Intelligent Textiles, which designed the fabric, is planning to field-test the uniforms by May, and may put them to limited use by the end of this year. A more widespread rollout is planned for 2014 or 2015. The fabric would replace a host of batteries that soldiers must currently carry and recharge, lightening their load and eliminating fragile and inconvenient cables.
The uniform could also act as a sort of wearable computer. Intelligent Textiles is currently designing a machine — complete with fabric keyboard — that could be integrated into the clothes. But even without this added complexity, the fabric must be designed to take damage without breaking down or hurting its wearer. "One of the problems with conventional cables is that breakages can be catastrophic. What we do here is build in redundancy, so that if the fabric gets cut, damaged or torn, we still have a way of re-routing the data," Intelligent Textiles director Asha Thompson told BBC News. Intelligent Textiles has been working on the project for several years with help from the British Ministry of Defense.