At the Google I/O developers conference in San Francisco today, Google once again proved that there is nowhere it won’t go. Meet Project Jacquard, its new high-tech fabric system that brings together designers and developers to integrate its connected touch-sensitive textile technology into their products.
Google’s first commercial wearable tech partner: Bay Area neighbor Levi’s, in an innovative blend of a heritage brand with fashion-forward ambitions and a relative upstart with designer ambitions. The move also recalls how Google Glass partnered with fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg to make the headgear more chic and wearable.
Conductive fabric isn’t new, of course, but Google wants to make truly wearable tech fashionable and functional, and so it’s turning to Levi’s to make a hip collection of digital denim incorporating its intelligent fabric. “We’ve done this before—people have done this—but we want to move beyond novelty,” stated Google’s Project Jacquard lead, Ivan Poupyrev. “We want to move beyond a single use case.”
“We have to think about making interactive textiles at the scale of the global apparel and fashion industry,” he added. “We can’t expect them to change just for us—even though we are Google. We have to adapt to the fashion industry.”
Google’s ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects lab) researchers discovered that only a small part of a garment needs to be interactive to be effective, so they designed a chip (about the size of a button) that takes signals from the yarn as people move their fingers over that part of the fabric. The technology piece figured out, Google must make it wearable, desirable and affordable.
Its launch video above shows tailoring and apparel construction tests with designers and even a Savile Row tailor in London to prove that the interactive threads could work, whether as part of the design or made invisible. Now it’s turning to Levi-Strauss as its launch commercial partner to develop its first digital denim collection to bring its wearable tech to market.
As Levi’s stated in a blog post, “What could an iconic jeans maker and a technology juggernaut have in common? Aside from common Bay Area roots, the Levi’s brand and Google share another distinction: our innovations have transformed the way people live. Blue jeans, our gold-rush era invention, forever changed the way the world dresses, while Google’s search technology transformed the way the world discovers information.”
Paul Dillinger, vice president of global product innovation for the Levi’s brand (who spoke at I/O today, as seen above) added, “In our hyper-digital world, people constantly struggle to be physically present in their environment while maintaining a digital connection. The work that Google and Levi’s are embarking upon with Project Jacquard delivers an entirely new value to consumers with apparel that is emotional, aspirational and functional.”
Consider the possibilities. Eventually, conductive fabric will be integrated with devices such as smartphones, tablets and smart watches. To spark developers’ imaginations, Google I/O today showcased a jacket made with Jacquard that could work as a touchpad, and used it to dial a smartphone with just a swipe.
“It’s an awesome concept—you can swipe away a phone call without ever interrupting conversation on a dinner date, or switch song tracks easily while walking down the street,” The Next Web commented. “The textile can be woven into any size that you need it to be as well.”
“This isn’t a launch, it’s a platforming opportunity,” Dillinger told WWD. “It becomes a home to new forms and applications we haven’t thought of yet. The potential is that the input is the gesture—crossing your legs, swiping, saving, lifting.”
Google chose the name Jacquard for the fabric technology comes from a classic style of elaborate and complex machine weaving, and portends the enormity of the move Google and Levi’s now making.
“If you can weave the sensor into the textile, as a material, you’re moving away from the electronics,” Google’s Poupyrev noted to the I/O audience. “You’re making the basic materials of the world around us interactive. It’s a complete shift from making electronics and attaching them to things to actually creating materials which are interactive by their definition.”
Already rebooting Google Glass, as announced in January, its 2015 I/O conference brought updates to its Android Wear smartwatch and another wearable advance in Soli, a tiny radar-based sensor that lets you control devices with your fingers as the interface – no touchscreen required.