Wearable Tech World Feature Article
June 03, 2015

Google & Levi's Get Together to Make Sensor-Packed Clothes

For a while, “wearable tech” seemed almost limited to smartwatches and other wrist-mounted gear, with an occasional nod to the head-mounted display. But the idea of wearable tech that went into shirts and pants and shoes was never really ignored, even if it did seem like it was just thrust to the side. Google seems to be taking this concept to heart, joining up with Levi's to give Project Jacquard a leg up and bring more sensors to clothing.

Jacquard, for those not already familiar, is a surprisingly technical fabric named for a weaving practice that involves a particular kind of loom. In Project Jacquard's case, meanwhile, it involves a breed of “conductive yarn” that can be embedded directly into fabrics. When those threads are grouped together into meshes, it essentially allows for touch-sensitive patches of clothing. The patches in question might be sensitive enough to detect how much pressure is on same, or even where the position of a hand is on or even near those patches.

Reports suggest that the patches aren't exactly that great right now—technical program lead Ivan Poupyrev notes that the patches are better with broad gestures than extremely focused stuff—but it's worth noting that technology commonly improves with use anyway. A video demonstration reportedly showed someone starting a call on a Nexus 6 that was located nearby with one swipe across the sleeve of a Jacquard jacket.

What particularly interested Levi's, according to reports, is that the Project Jacquard concept doesn't come with screens, thus it loses a lot of the distraction function that a smartwatch might boast. Essentially, as noted by Paul Dillinger—who serves as Levi's head of product innovation—a person could not only wear smart clothing, and use smart clothing, but also maintain eye contact with a person over dinner. That's sparking some imaginations, and giving rise to potential new use cases for such tools.

Sparking imaginations, meanwhile, is part of the picture for the upcoming Wearable Tech Expo. Set to hit New York City's Jacob Javits Center from July 13-15, this show will offer a variety of keynote addresses to sum up what's going on in the wearable field, as well as product exhibitions and other such events. Those wanting a close look at the wearable tech field should make plans to attend.

But for this project, however, it's an interesting idea. Consider the idea of a panic button that could be built right into clothing, such that the correct swipe or press would activate a smartphone to dial 911 and broadcast location. It would be virtually unseen by criminals and potentially cause more arrests, even possibly reducing crime altogether. But that's just one idea, and there are likely plenty more afoot should clothing makers and tech makers like Google focus on the possibility.

Seeing just what comes out of this idea should make for plenty of new systems to see in operation. This could really go somewhere, and Project Jacquard might end up changing the way we think about a pair of pants.

Edited by Rory J. Thompson

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