According to a report in the Intercept, the US intelligence community is envisioning the future of wearable technology beyond standard devices like smartwatches and fitness trackers, and their focus is on ePANTS. The federal government has allocated a minimum of $22 million to develop ‘smart’ clothing with surveillance and data collection capabilities, an initiative referred to as SMART ePANTS (Smart Electrically Powered and Networked Textile Systems). This program aims to create clothing, including shirts, pants, socks, and underwear, that can record audio, video, and geolocation data while remaining washable.
The project is managed by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the intelligence community’s counterpart to the better-known Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). IARPA is known for investing federal funds in high-risk, high-reward projects to address challenges faced by the intelligence community.
While some projects led by IARPA have yielded impressive results, others have been costly failures. “A lot of the IARPA and DARPA programs are like throwing spaghetti against the refrigerator,” Annie Jacobsen, author of a book about DARPA, “The Pentagon’s Brain,” told The Intercept. “It may or may not stick.”
The SMART ePANTS program is another ambitious undertaking, with contracts awarded to five entities, including defense contractors Nautilus Defense and Leidos. The exact contract values for the other three entities (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, SRI International, and Areté) were not disclosed.
SMART ePANTS represents the national security community’s exploration of advanced wearables, following past endeavors like the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). While TALOS aimed to create a powered exoskeleton reminiscent of sci-fi “supersuits,” it was discontinued in 2019 after incurring $80 million in costs.
The advent of smart wearables raises concerns about government biometric surveillance. With SMART ePANTS and similar technologies, government authorities could potentially detect substances on individuals’ skin, raising privacy and civil liberties questions. IARPA emphasizes that its programs adhere to strict privacy protection protocols and undergo compliance reviews.
Outside the national security community, private industry, such as Meta (Facebook’s parent company), is also exploring smart clothing technology. The intelligence community’s investment in cutting-edge technology is not new, as seen with the CIA’s venture capital arm’s involvement in ventures like wooly mammoth resurrection startups.
The United States has previously made efforts to incorporate digital technologies into clothing. In 2021, a collaboration between the US Army Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies and MIT resulted in the creation of a programmable fiber. This innovative fiber has the capacity to store, analyze, and transmit data regarding the wearer’s activities when integrated into clothing, all thanks to microscale digital chips.



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