SMART ePANTS is a technology project backed by the US government, aiming to develop advanced smart clothing. These garments would include sensors, cameras, and built-in wires, smoothly woven into everyday clothing like shirts, pants, or underwear. The purpose is to allow wearers to capture audio and video from their surroundings while also tracking their exact location using geolocation sensors.
These smart clothes will be comfortable and easy to wear, designed to stretch, bend, and be washed just like regular attire. The project is managed by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), an organization under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which oversees US intelligence agencies.
These smart textiles could be used by intelligence, anti-terrorism, and national security agencies like the CIA and NSA, among others. They might also find applications for first responders in challenging situations like crime scenes and arms control inspections, without slowing down their operations.
IARPA focuses on research programs that carry high risks but offer significant rewards, addressing complex challenges within the Intelligence Community.
Annie Jacobsen, author of ‘The Pentagon’s Brain,’ likened IARPA and DARPA programs to experiments where not all of them may succeed. IARPA was modeled after DARPA, which primarily serves military needs.
Looking Towards the Future
Dr. Dawson Cagle, overseeing the SMART ePANTS initiative, is excited about its potential impact on society beyond intelligence. He believes that this research could lead to innovative wearable devices integrating various components such as computers, sensors, batteries, wires, and switches.
While it might seem that smart textiles can connect to home Wi-Fi, it’s crucial to differentiate between two types: active and passive. Active smart textiles (AST) adapt to changes in the environment or user input, often involving sensors and wiring for connectivity to enhance the wearer’s experience. Passive smart textiles offer extra functionalities, like sun protection protection or sweat-absorbing properties.
SMART ePANTS: A Potential Surveillance Instrument?
Recently, MIT developed an AST fabric that detects posture and motion, potentially aiding individuals in rehabilitation. MIT is one of the institutions involved in the SMART ePANTS research, alongside SRI International, Seashell Defense, Leidos, Inc., and Areté. Nautilus Defense and Leidos have received funding from the US Department of Defense to develop the fabric.
There are concerns that SMART ePANTS could be used for mass surveillance, given the US government’s history of warrantless surveillance, particularly after 9/11. The US Patriot Act was initially meant to counter terrorism but has been criticized for infringing on privacy rights. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has documented NSA surveillance activities over the years.
Some worry that SMART ePANTS could be used to build extensive surveillance systems, collecting more information about individuals than they may realize.
SMART ePANTS is a government-backed initiative to create advanced smart clothing with integrated sensors and cameras. While it has potential benefits in various sectors, including intelligence and first responders, concerns about potential surveillance applications loom, raising questions about privacy and data collection in our evolving technological landscape.