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War-tested fads from Iraq
Military-inspired sunglasses, desert combat boots, battle-ready laptops: the new 'must-have' items?
April 14, 2003: 5:38 PM EDT
By Parija Bhatnagar, CNN/Money Staff Writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Remember camouflage gear after the first Gulf War? Now a small army of companies hopes to start selling consumer versions of the goggles, boots and other products they've been supplying to the troops in the Middle East.

Wars have historically inspired new technology, new products, and new fashions, consumer marketing experts say. The current war looks set to bring us things like laptops that you can all but hit with a sledge hammer, high-tech bandages, and, yes, it's already here, the Hummer.

"There is a huge tie-in between military products and their commercialization for civilian use," said Richard Hooker, an analyst at Business Communications, a market research firm. "The most obvious would be the popularity of military-inspired clothing but we've also seen it with vehicles and communications equipment like radios."

Oakley's limited civilian version of the Elite Special Forces assault shoe and boot debut May 1.  
Oakley's limited civilian version of the Elite Special Forces assault shoe and boot debut May 1.

For example, the "Humvee" gained so much notoriety during the 1990-91 Gulf War that the defense contractor AM General has produced a civilian version called the "Hummer" priced at over $60,000. And recently AM General cut a deal for General Motors to market two versions of the Hummer.

Some other lucrative innovations generated by relatively recent wars include kidney dialysis systems, blood transfusions (introduced during World War II), and night-vision binoculars, an outcrop of the Vietnam War.

With the Bush administration signaling the end of the Saddam Hussein regime, the folks at Oakley, the Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based maker of sports and fashion sunglasses, are hoping to capitalize on the military's success in Iraq.

A little-known fact about Oakley (OO: up $0.38 to $8.43, Research, Estimates) is that it's also a military vendor. The company makes high-tech goggles used for covert operations by Special Forces troops and light-weight assault boots for the military in Iraq. The military goggles are made of laser-proof lens designed to protect the eye during combat.

Oakley's military Assault goggles offer infrared protection.  
Oakley's military Assault goggles offer infrared protection.

Now Oakley is gearing up to debut a limited consumer version of the Elite Special Forces Standard-Issue Assault Boot May 1. The boot carries a price tag of $225, while the Assault shoe will retail for $195. Both items are available online at

"This is a niche product," said Colin Baden, Oakley's president and chief designer. "We're hoping that the success of the U.S. military in Iraq helps sales of the products."

Although the infrared-protection goggles are for military use only, Oakley already sells consumer versions called the A Frame snow goggle and the M Frame sports goggles. The M Frame is priced at $145. The A Frame, designed for snow boarding and skiing, sells for $120.

"We've had a strong goggles business this year already, but it's hard to discern if it's benefited from the military influence," said Baden.

Quick fix: HemCon military bandage

Tigard, Ore.-based HemCon Inc., a small maker of medical devices, scored a big breakthrough last November when the company won approval from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for its HemCon bandage designed specifically to stop a hemorrhage in a couple of minutes.

The U.S. military became HemCon's first and biggest customer. "The military has already paid for 21,000 bandages and they are being used in Iraq," said Sue Van Brocklin, spokeswoman for HemCon. "The HemCon bandage is also approved for use by paramedics, firefighters and hospitals."

HemCon bandage contains blood clotting agents that can stop severe bleeding in a few minutes.  
HemCon bandage contains blood clotting agents that can stop severe bleeding in a few minutes.

Made from chitosan, a shrimp-based product, the bandage is designed to halt severe bleeding fast. But the four-inch by four-inch patch doesn't come cheap, costing about $130 a piece.

Van Brocklin said demand for the bandage has risen rapidly since it won FDA clearance and the company does have plan to bring the HemCon bandage to the consumer market.

"The cost and the size is a factor right now," said Brocklin. "But eventually as the cost comes down we are hoping to move it to civilian use. The bandage will probably be smaller and come as a part of a first-aid kit available in drug stores."

Rugged laptops in vogue

Another war-tested product that's won plenty of attention lately from its ubiquitous use in the Middle East is the "rugged" laptop.

Essentially, the rugged laptop is a toughened computer that has been torture-tested to meet the military's requirements. The machines are exposed to heat, dust, moisture, sand, rain, salt, changes in atmospheric pressure, and dropped from three feet onto concrete.

Despite their expanding use by the military, law enforcement agencies, factories and U.S. corporations, industry watchers said rugged laptops still are just a niche product.

The battled-hardened Panasonic Toughbook 28 has a 13.1-inch screen, 800-MHz processor, 256MB of SDRAM expandable to 512MB, and 30GB HDD.  
The battled-hardened Panasonic Toughbook 28 has a 13.1-inch screen, 800-MHz processor, 256MB of SDRAM expandable to 512MB, and 30GB HDD.

"There are a handful of vendors, but it could be a while before these products hit the consumer market. The rugged computer is a very specialized and expensive product," said Mark Margevicius, military technology analyst with Gartner Research.

Rugged notebooks cost from $3,400 to $5,895. Panasonic, the Secaucus, N.J.-based division of Japanese electronics company Matsushita Electric Corp., supplied 5,000 Toughbook brand rugged laptops to the military for use in Iraq, including the Toughbook 28 model.

The Toughbook 28's computing features are comparable with high-end consumer laptops, but what sets it apart is its touch screen display screen, its shock-resistant Magnesium Alloy case and its moisture and dust-proof keyboard and touch pad.

"Our biggest clients for the Toughbook laptops are the military, law enforcement agencies like the FBI, CIA, Coast Guard and the Federal Emergency Management Agency," said Jeff Ayers, spokesman for Panasonic. "But we're also selling them to the utilities companies and commercial businesses. We've sold about 250,000 Toughbooks in the past 5 years."

The Packbot is the military's newest robotic soldier.  
The Packbot is the military's newest robotic soldier.

For now, the Panasonic Toughbooks are sold exclusively through the company's dealers.

At the same time, iRobot Corp. said the hefty cost of making a Packbot, the newest robots being used in battlefields, is a good reason the company won't be going commercial with the product anytime soon. The Packbot, about seven inches tall, weighs 40 pounds and costs about $45,000.

The machines are equipped with "flippers" that allow the robot to climb hills and stairs, and assume an upright posture that enable it to navigate narrow and twisting passages. They can also be fitted with multiple cameras.

GM's HI and H2 models of the Hummer.  
GM's HI and H2 models of the Hummer.

"The first time the Packbot was used in combat was in Afghanistan in August 2002 to search caves. The military is using the Packbot in Iraq for reconnaissance operations and to search buildings", said Nancy Dassault, spokeswoman for Burlington, Mass.-based iRobot.

Dassault added that the company may be looking into ways to transition the Packbot technology into consumer electronics. The company's already the first to create an automatic vacuum cleaner called Roomba, which uses an artificial intelligence navigation technology to clean floor surfaces without human direction.

As for the 12-year-old Hummer, General Motors (GM: up $1.29 to $36.12, Research, Estimates), which sells the Humvee-inspired HI for $116,483 and the customer-specific H2 Hummer offspring for $48,445, said Gulf War II hasn't yet made an impact on its sales.

"We haven't noticed any shift in demand this year so we can't say that the war is boosting demand for the Hummer," said Heather Hall, spokeswoman for GM's Hummer division, adding that the company sold 55 H1 models last month, up from 47 in January, and 3,014 of the H2 models, up from 2,810.  Top of page

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