The U.S. Army Reveals It's Developing Self-Heating Gloves

They're like electric blankets for your hands.

Getty Images / David McNew

If you’ve ever used a GPS to navigate your way home, cooked some quick meal with a microwave, or taken a drone out for a flight, you have used something that began as military technology. And if the coming winter months fill you with dread over frozen fingers, take heart: The U.S. Army is working on a high-tech glove, and if all those other inventions are any indication, it could cement itself as an American technological staple.

The glove design coming out of the U.S. Army’s Natick Labs in Massachusetts is advanced, but the underlying concept is surprisingly simple. Essentially, the Army can turn electric blankets into gloves. With a couple cutting-edge tweaks, the Army could be on the verge of making the perfect glove.

The glove design would be a big improvement over the Army’s current version, which is three decades old. If the experimental fabrics work as hoped, soldiers would be able to turn up or turn down the heat, too. Researcher Paola D’Angelo and her colleagues also want to incorporate sweat-absorbing hydrogel particles into the gloves, all in the hopes of making the gloves more comfortable for their wearers.

Electric blankets for your hands. 

US Army Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center

For now, many soldiers just buy off-the-shelf consumer products for cold weather, as D’Angelo explained this week to the media. Those gloves actually work better than standard army issue, but still not well enough to keep soldiers’ hands from going numb in extreme climates. Natick Labs announced earlier this week it had developed a new way to embed heat-conducted silver nanowires in thin cloth, creating an “energized fabric” that can keep soldiers warm while keeping down bulk and weight. Both are vital to a fighter’s capabilities — after all, it’s really hard to shoot a gun with thick gloves on.

“That’s problematic if soldiers have to operate weapons as soon as they land,” D’Angelo said. She presented her work at the recent national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, D.C. “So we want to pursue this fundamental research to see if we can modify hand wear for that extreme cold weather.”

Watch the D’Angelo’s full presentation below:

While the gloves are a ways off from making in onto the battlefield, military tech does have a habit of reaching consumers. 2017’s cutting-edge military gloves could, with any luck, be 2027’s hottest winter fashion accessory.