The Planning Grants for Engineering Research Centers competition was run as a pilot solicitation within the ERC program. Planning grants are not required as part of the full ERC competition, but intended to build capacity among teams to plan for convergent, center-scale engineering research.

The use of wearable technology is poised to significantly increase in the next decade. Many flexible electronic devices have begun to be incorporated into clothing as health monitors, implants, batteries, or accessories. Therefore, there are ever more pressing needs to bring digital fabrication to create sustainable products, specifically, smart textiles that will conserve water, nutrients, and energy in every facet of our lives. Textile-based devices, both passive and active, will act as platforms to embed intelligence. It offers a rare opportunity as well as challenges when blending design, sensing, communication, and advanced manufacturing technologies into unobtrusive textiles. For textile to perform as devices, it requires a convergence approach that builds and supports collaboration and synergy that intersects science, technology, engineering, mathematics and art (STEAM) for a scalable and sustainable manufacturing fibers and yarns towards the final products, smart fabrics. If successful, the planned ERC will enable transformation of traditional textile manufacturing into sustainable digital fabrication, which will impact wearable electronics, smart clothing, robotics, safety, building interiors and envelopes, and medical devices.

The planned ERC will have a broad set of university researchers and designers tied to government and industrial stakeholders to develop a general platform that is not possible by any existing collaboration or a single institution. It necessitates system-level design considerations and a convergent approach across disciplines. The planning grant will allow us to (1) identify research and education/workforce development challenges given the unconventional collaborations between different teams; (2) carry out pilot projects to test/facilitate cross-center initiatives, and plan a workshop to bring together potential stakeholders for the planned ERC; (3) establish initial vision via workshop and planning meetings for a general stakeholder-driven research framework and workflow that can be applied to many different problems. The pilot projects will 1) Develop predictive modeling and sustainable manufacturing of textile, including self-folding textiles; 2) Embed intelligence and sustainability in manufacturing of textile-based health monitors; 3) Create plant-like "second skins" for energy-harvesting, and self-powering, and 4) Blend fashion and technology. In the planning grant, we will also create a design data observatory for large repositories of design information and sensory data. The planning grant will foster convergence that blends scientists, engineers, and designers to strengthen the existing collaborations and build consensus around the planned ERC to address more complex problems. It will accelerate research innovation, enrich our teaching and learning experience, excite the public, and prepare a diverse STEAM workforce to advance U.S. leadership in digital manufacturing. In the planning grant, we will focus on 1) ERC specific curricular innovation across schools and disciplines to enrich education experience in STEAM. 2) Faculty development to enhance effectiveness of teaching and learning, creating replicable, interdisciplinary learning modules in both the classroom and less formal environments. 3) Engaging potential industrial partners in the early stage of education and training of students. 4) Building up technology readiness.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

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University of Pennsylvania
United States
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