How Google Is Making Clothes Into Tech

Victoria Kezra
The future is almost here. Soon you'll be able to control your phone from your sweater.

Mobile technology has been getting smaller and smaller, but soon you won’t have to carry anything at all. Wearable technology has existed for a few years  in the form of Google Glass, iwatches and fitness trackers, so it’s no surprise that the next step on the evolutionary scale is “smart clothes.”

Google has partnered with Levi’s fashion brand to create clothes with a technological component, calling it Project Jacquard after the early 19th-century looms that used punch cards to program garment patterns. The plan is to weave thin, conductive threads in with the textile threads that make up the fabric of the clothing. Old and new together.

“If you just replace some of threads in textiles with conductive threads you should be able to weave a textile which can recognize a variety of simple touch gestures just like any touch panel in a mobile phone,” said Ivan Poupyrev, Project Jacquard Founder at Google ATAP.

The new conductive threads must be tough enough to withstand industrial weaving and can be connected to chips that would register wearer’s movements. These could be used in anything from clothes to furniture once the process is further refined.

“We made the yarn very thin and it’s natural so it looks like normal yarn. The only thing different is that it’s conductive” said Shiho Fukuhara, textile development and partnership lead with the project.

The teams says they have gone back and forth between making the fibers visible, invisible and a number of designs, so it is unclear what the first wearable tech from Google and Levi will look like once the project is ready to be sold. Other components may be hidden in buttons or elsewhere in garments so interaction is, in a word, seamless. 

Bart Sights, senior director of technical innovation and Levi Strauss said “We like to think we have these iconic products that haven’t changed much but the world is change. I think Jacquard presents a great opportunity for brand, for design to open a door to the future.”

The video ends with someone brushing their fingers against the sleeve of a garment and successfully prompting a cell phone to respond. 

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