TT Electronics is set to revolutionise wearable electronics for soldiers with the launch of our new mag-Net® electrical connector. mag-Net®, which is the result of years of research and development, is a new auto-aligning, self-coupling connector that we've designed for the 21st Century soldier.
Although previously showcased on UK TV’s Gadget Show, mag-Net® will have its TT Electronics public debut on our booth at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) annual meeting and exposition in Washington, DC, on 3-5 October 2016. If you’re at the show we invite you to come and meet with us and explore mag-Net® first hand at booth 2743.
Modern warfare sees a plethora of electronic equipment being carried by soldiers, all with a variety of electrical requirements. These include radios, personal digital assistants (PDAs), GPS units, laser and optical rangefinders, video cameras and much more. This is sometimes referred to as the Christmas tree effect, whereby more and more items just keep being added and hung onto a soldier’s battle vest.
But in the heat of battle the last thing soldiers want to do is struggle with circular barrel connectors, which are often the most common point of failure. So we threw away the convention for traditional connectors and started thinking about this from an entirely fresh angle. The result is mag-Net®, which is rugged and ultra reliable, can stand up to the harsh conditions of the battlefield theatre, and yet can still be easily connected with just one hand.
mag-Net® is streets ahead of anything the competition has. We started with a clean sheet of paper and designed mag-Net® from the ground up to be effective, reliable, unobtrusive and extremely easy to use. The feedback, both from the UK Ministry of Defence and other agencies around the world, has been universally positive, with one saying ‘it is clearly the next generation and makes all other soldier vest connectors look like they come from the Stone Age’.
We describe mag-Net® as a ‘robust, flush-fitting rectangular solution with a self-aligning, automatic, magnetic latching system’. This enables the user to easily perform one-handed blind mating. It features a reliable eight-way electrical contact configuration for both power and high-speed data transmission capabilities, including USB 2.0.
The vest receptacle connector is completely flat and so reduces the likelihood of being snagged. The connector is also easy to clean – the soldier simply has to wipe it with his/her glove and it is good to go. As there are no moving parts there is no chance of dirt or mud getting into any mechanism and causing it to fail. This was another design feature that we thought was essential from the outset. So many military style connectors use rotating coupling rings, moving collars, or triggers, that can so easily jam with the ingress of sand, dirt, or snow.
The plug connector comes in two types, latching and non-latching: The latching version has stainless steel ‘mushroom’ stud pins that latch under titanium ‘schimmel’ pins in the recesses of the vest connector. These can provide a retention force of over 200N preventing any possibility of unwanted disconnection while at the same time allowing for an emergency break-away when really needed. In the specific intended direction, the plug simply lifts up and out of the vest connector with as little as 10N force. This is one of the features customers absolutely love; the connector mates itself, certainly won’t come undone when you don’t want it to but, with the right motion, uncouples so very easily.
The non-latching version only uses its strong magnetic coupling to hold the two parts of the connector together but can nevertheless withstand a breaking force of up to 45-60 Newtons. As an example, this makes it ideal for vest systems that need to provide an over-the-shoulder connection with emergency release. The vest connector receptacle can accept both latching and non-latching plugs, meaning vests or garments can be made to a standard, and customisation of latching or non-latching can easily take place through the choice of plug.
Designing the connector so that it is easy to use, even one-handed, was paramount. The last thing soldiers want to do is to ‘buddy-up’ and ask a colleague to connect something because they can't reach. And if they have to take their jacket or backpack off, they waste valuable time and put themselves at risk. With mag-Net® it becomes the simplest of one-handed operations, even if they can't see what they are doing.
mag-Net® was specifically designed so that it can be mounted on garments such as vests or load carriage systems. And being flush fitting it is virtually immune to snagging in the field. mag-Net®’s tough low-cost thermoplastic garment cage is designed to be positioned and sewn into a soldier’s vest or backpack. These can even be supplied to garment manufacturers, who may not necessarily be skilled or experienced in the integration of expensive wearable electronics.
The square cage, which is universally symmetrical, then retains the mag-Net® receptacle connector assembly. We've made this from a hard aluminium shell and carefully-chosen thermoplastics for maximum abrasion resistance and durability. The receptacle cages can also be fitted with a blanking plate, making garments ‘smart compatible’ for future upgrades. This method also allows the manufacture of garment and electronics to be separated, by providing an easy-to-use interface for a complete electrical system to be integrated into the clothing, and of course, the ability to remove the system afterward makes any electronics repair and maintenance so simple.
We’re also starting to look at non-military applications and the potential for mag-Net® seems limitless. This includes wearables for railway workers, motorcyclists, and even Disney tour guides, who have to carry communications equipment in their backpacks. The RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) also thinks that the mag-Net® system could be useful for sight-impaired people as it is so easy to use. We feel we have barely scratched the surface of how mag-Net® could be used in the future.
Click here to find out more about mag-Net®.