New DHS Accelerator Seeks Wearable Tech for First Responders


The department wants to modify commercial products for government use.

Attention, startups creating the next smartwatch or heart-rate sensing fabric: The Homeland Security Department wants your products. 

DHS on Monday opened applications for the second round of its federally focused tech "accelerator," in search of wearable devices that can be customized for first responders.

The DHS program accepts early-stage companies whose products are designed for the commercial market, and that might incorporate embedded sensors, integrated voice control, and other wearable features. Accepted companies can demonstrate their products directly to first responders, investors and potential technology partners. 

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DHS has been elevating its search for wearable devices recently; it announced a drone-themed Industry Day last month, noting a hypothetical scenario in which a border patrol agent could control an unmanned aerial vehicle with a panel embedded in the forearm of their uniform. It is also developing wearable devices for DHS agents that could passively monitor for nuclear or radioactive material. 

The agency's Science and Technology Office is working with the Center for Innovative Technology, a Virginia state-funded nonprofit that operates accelerators including the cybersecurity-themed MACH37. DHS' "Emerge" accelerator, which will house the wearable program, is also working with TechNexus, a venture group based in Chicago. 

The goal isn't "to take the technologies off the commercial path, but rather see if they could be modified for first responders, and also to educate the startup community on the needs and market of homeland security," an FAQ on CIT's website said

Some estimates value the wearable market at $1 trillion over the next few years, according to CIT. If it can tap into this commercial market, DHS "should be able to get cutting-edge technology into the field faster and at much lower cost" than if it tries to develop it in house, according to CIT. 

Wearable products might include "physiological sensors, high-performance materials, health support such as hydration, communications capabilities, situational awareness" and other features. They might need to operate in low-visibility and extreme temperature conditions, according to CIT. Products must not melt or shatter, and should be lightweight, as first responders are often carrying other equipment.  

DHS is accepting applications until Sep. 2.