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4/27/2012
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Army Seeks Gloves For Battlefield Smartphones

Special gloves must be flexible enough for touchscreens, but also tough enough to withstand the rigors of combat.

Defense Robots: Fast, Flexible, And Tough
Defense Robots: Fast, Flexible, And Tough
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The Army is shopping for special gloves that can be used by soldiers to manipulate the touch screens of smartphones and tablets.

The Army's request for information, posted on the federal government's FedBizOpps.gov acquisition site, highlights how the military must adapt as it looks to make use of commercial mobile devices. The gloves must have "tactile accuracy" for use with a touch screen, while also being flame retardant and tough enough for the battlefield.

The RFI specifies that the gloves work with capacitive touch screens, the type used by the iPhone and iPad. Touchscreens react to bioelectricity in the skin, using moisture, salts, and oils to conduct electricity. Capacitive gloves knit a metal such as silver into the material to conduct bioelectricity and allow gloved fingers to interact with the touchscreen.

[ Read See 10 Great iPad Apps From Uncle Sam. ]

The gloves will be used in the Army's Nett Warrior program, which originally set out to create a wearable computer, but has been reoriented toward the use of smartphones and tablets. Program goals include letting soldiers ascertain their location in the field, employ wireless networking, and use cameras to transmit images--all capabilities common to commercial mobile devices.

The Army RFI designates that the gloves be able to manipulate graphic interfaces and tactical software applications on commercial devices. It doesn't specify a device make or model.

Mobile devices used by soldiers are housed in a protective case that makes it difficult to manipulate the screen using an ordinary glove. The Army stipulates that the gloves must be form-fitting and have tactile accuracy, while also being "combat survivable."

The Army doesn't specify how many of the gloves it plans to buy, but says they will be distributed to some members of 38 brigade combat teams between fiscal years 2013 and 2016. The Army has been aggressively preparing for widespread adoption of commercial mobile technologies through pilot programs to test the devices and one of the Department of Defense's first mobile apps portals.

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