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Carnegie Mellon joins national effort to bring functional fabrics and materials to the market

Credit: Ashley Wang/ Credit: Ashley Wang/

Carnegie Mellon has joined a new national research institute called the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA) that conducts research on new fibers, fabrics, and materials and integrates them into products ranging from active wear to protective armor. The institute aims to “accelerate widespread commercialization of highly functional fabrics,” as stated on AFFOA’s website. The $75 million national non-profit will serve as a resource for industry and government, connecting various companies with the expertise of academic researchers.

“Recent breakthroughs in fiber materials and manufacturing processes will soon allow us to design and produce fabrics that see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health, and change color — the dawn of a ‘fabric revolution,’” AFFOA says on its website.

Currently, the AFFOA group includes 31 academic institutions, including Carnegie Mellon, Cornell University, The Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, and the University of California, Davis. 16 companies are named as industry partners, including Nike, Microsoft, Goodyear, The North Face, Bose, and Medtronic. In addition, 26 start-up incubators and venture capital groups have pledged support, including Angel Capital Associations, Westbury Partners, and North Bridge Venture Partners.

AFFOA has been formally recognized, as announced by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last week, as one of the White House’s National Networks for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) institutes. The NNMI is a $317 million public-private initiative aiming to boost the value of American-made products internationally through innovative research and development.

“The AFFOA initiative will provide unique opportunities for Carnegie Mellon to enable new materials, devices, systems, and applications. The integration of sensors and actuators in electronic textiles and smart fabrics can help widen the use of existing applications and open new applications in health, education, transportation, or Internet of things,” Diana Marculescu, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon, said in an interview with the University. Marculescu leads a group of faculty that develops electronic textiles with novel properties by embedding processing, sensing, and actuation.

Carnegie Mellon will be part of a research hub, led by Drexel University, that assembles partners in the mid-Atlantic region and links research institutions such as Penn State, Temple University, and the University of Delaware to manufacturing and investment partners such as DuPont, Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeast Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia Office of Manufacturing and Industry, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.

This research hub will lead investigations in modeling, designing, and predicting the utility of new fibers, yarns, and materials, and will apply those new materials to prototypes of functional fabrics for apparel, health care, transportation, consumer electronics, architecture, and the defense industry.

“I strongly believe that AFFOA offers an unparalleled opportunity for developing our workforce,” Marculescu said. “Indeed, new generations of scientists and engineers will be trained in integrating sensors, actuators, and photonics into wearable clothing fabrics. We are looking forward to being part of AFFOA and connecting with other academic and industrial members.”