Google and Levis Making Clothing as Touch Screens


The jokes that will undoubtedly be made are obvious about wanting to touch an area on someone’s outfit, but the possibilities are fascinating. One of Google’s latest ventures is making clothing, in partnership with Levi Strauss, maker of the iconic Levis jeans, that will function as large interactive surfaces; think blue jeans as touch screens. Wearable devices will be truly wearable!

Weaving messages into cloth goes back to ancient days (as has shown up onscreen in plots like Wanted and the television show Turn). But the ability to actually weave cloth that is essentially a textile interactive touchpad is a real effort under way named Project Jacquard, according to Google.

Google Inc.’s Advanced Technology and Projects lab (ATAP) announced the effort at the company’s developers’ conference. Named for the 19th century looms that first used punch cards to digitally program patterns the weave, Project Jacquard involves developing conductive yarn with metallic alloys mixed with standard thread materials like silk or cotton. It needs to be tough enough for industrial weaving apparatuses to produce technology equipped apparel and housewares. Connected to chips, the threads could be programmed to monitor body temperatures and heart rates or react to movements. The tiny electronic threads can use algorithms to capture touch interactions and gestures. Project Jacquard gives new meaning to the idea of dressing smartly!

As Paul Dillinger, global product innovation head for Levi’s, told the crowd at the Google event, “In our hyper-digital world, people constantly struggle to be physically present in their environment while maintaining a digital connection.” He noted that the work that the two companies are doing will deliver “an entirely new value to consumers with apparel that is emotional, aspirational and functional.”

The design possibilities are endless with the threads used as accent pieces or woven throughout. Think of electronics becoming a seamless (pun intended) part of everyday life versus something carried in a pocket or purse, or now on a wrist. It sounds fascinating, and also kind of creepy. But the possibilities for its use are endless.

Google’s demonstration showed using the “smart” clothes to transmit information to a cell phone, change the volume on music, to turn on or off the lights, control other devices or even connect the wearer to online services. While some made jokes about inadvertently wiping hands on pants changing settings, the idea of readily summoning help, alerting about a pickpocket attempt, or tapping the couch arm to change channels sets the mind spinning with countless other possibilities.

“Jacquard is a blank canvas for the fashion industry,” Google reps commented. They envision designers using the technology as “they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics,” according to company promo information.

The issues, besides perfecting the technology, will undoubtedly be keeping costs down. Ensuring people that the clothes are washable and comfortable is important too. Then, they need to figure out what people will really want to use the threads to do. (Google Glass has not exactly been the whirlwind phenomenon many expected.)

Google seems to be venturing into countless new arenas that tie everything to technology from glasses to cars to dungarees. Joining Levis in making clothing and other fabric uses into touch screens is just one of the technological innovations up the Google developer sleeves.

By Dyanne Weiss

NBC News: Google, Levi’s Weave Tech Into Textiles With Project Jacquard
Bloomberg: Google’s Project Jacquard Gets It Right
Times of India: Soon, your clothes can be turned into touchscreens

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