Military Wearables Trends Require Connectors to Scale Down
The demand for micro- and nano-miniature military connectors is increasing as the military adopts Nett Warrior and future soldier technologies.
The military wearables market is expanding rapidly, driven by continuous innovation in small, lightweight products that can be used for navigation, communication, and computing systems, vision and surveillance, and biometric monitoring. These products have typically been worn as headgear, eyewear, wristwear, or ear-worn devices. However, new miniaturized connectivity technologies are making it possible to integrate advanced computing functions into a uniform in the form of smart textiles, or worn as a robotic support frame or exoskeleton to increase soldier strength and endurance.
Programs such as the U.S. Army’s Nett Warrior system are part of a “future soldier” concept that positions each soldier to function as part of an Internet of Military Things (IoMT) unit, equipped with technologies that enhance safety, communications capabilities, and battlefield effectiveness. Keeping these wearable systems small and lightweight helps soldiers remain agile and endure challenging field conditions. Size, weight, and power (SWaP) considerations are always important in military equipment design, but nowhere more so than in the wearables sector.
Connector suppliers support this market with a growing range of micro- and nano-scale connectivity products, including small and lightweight connectors and cables, and extending to sensors (haptics), antennas, and embedded computing components. We talked to Wayde King, product manager, at ITT Cannon, a company that has been focused on miniaturization for military and aerospace applications, as well as for other markets where reducing size and weight without sacrificing performance is a goal.
Let’s talk about the term “future soldier.” What technologies does this concept include?
The term “future soldier” is often used to describe a range of soldier-worn technology, equipment and devices that increase battlefield effectiveness. Anything a soldier touches, wears, navigates, or communicates with requires lightweight, durable, and reliable connections. Our goal is to continuously evolve high-performance interconnects that transmit power, data, and signal in military-grade radios, tablets, global positioning systems (GPS), and headsets, helping our warfighters fulfill their duties and get home safely.
What product requirements are driving innovation for connector suppliers that serve the military market?
Three trends are contributing to connector innovation for the military wearables market: connectivity, water submersion, and robust shielding. We see an increasing need for high-speed data, signal, and power to help soldiers stay connected, no matter what environmental conditions they face. The demand for interconnect solutions that can withstand water ingress or water submersion is also becoming increasingly important to help our warfighters stay connected in harsh environments. And, with multiple peripherals all transferring data and external signals to a soldier’s equipment, soldier-worn interconnects must provide a high level of shielding to prevent radiated emissions and susceptibility.
How does the connector industry work with the military to develop the technologies it needs?
From tablets and handheld radios to GPS systems and headsets, soldier-worn applications are constantly changing and becoming increasingly sophisticated. That creates a need for customizable connectors that work with existing technology and keep pace with advancements. The development of our connectors for military wearables is largely driven by Voice of the Customer (VoC) feedback and input, along with our legacy in the design and manufacturing of customized interconnects for military applications.
In high-dust terrain such as in desert situations, easy cleaning in the field must be a priority. Tell me more about how connectors can resist debris.
Soldiers operate in a wide range of terrains and harsh environments, so their equipment is constantly exposed to the elements like dust, dirt, mud, and water. These contaminants can easily enter equipment at connection points, so connectors must be designed to resist ingress. It is inevitable that devices will need to be disconnected at some point, so user-friendly interfaces that can resist field conditions are also important. Breakaway functionality allows soldiers to quickly clean the face of the connector and connect their devices in a matter of seconds. This functionality minimizes equipment damage and helps them stay better connected and better protected in the field.
How are fabric interconnects used in this market?
Fabric connectors are an innovative solution designed to seamlessly integrate onto the fabric of a smart vest where most of a soldier’s network is housed, reducing its overall weight and complexity.
What are the key challenges the connector industry is working to solve for military customers?
Two of the key challenges include water submersion and mobility. We’re an industry leader in the development of connector solutions that offer protection from water submersion and moisture, and our engineering team has designed lightweight, miniaturized, and high-performance interconnects that help lighten the load. When you consider that the average warfighter carries between 87 and 127lbs (39–57kg) of gear and equipment, every ounce matters.
What types of military wearables have the most potential to migrate to the civilian market?
Radios with network capabilities, push-to-talk (PTT) devices, and integrated tablets all have crossover potential for the civilian or business-to-business market. A number of different soldier-worn devices are of great interest to the first responder market.