Each new phone that comes to market seems to get larger and larger, making it much more difficult to grab your phone from your pocket in order to answer an incoming call or change the volume on a song thatís playing. With Google and Leviís latest technology, we might not need to take the phone out of our pocket after all. The two companies are partnering to create a pair of smart jeans that you can use to perform certain actions on your phone. These actions can include tapping a small section of a piece of fabric to pause and play music. You can also swipe the fabric to control volume. The move is part of a bigger initiative by Google called Project Jacquard, which is essentially a type of smart yarn that would allow textile manufacturers to create electronic clothing more easily.
Google isnít the first to dream up such an idea. Plenty of companies large and small are working on creating clothing that can connect to your phone. But Google is creating a common type of thread that would make it easier to create such devices.
The project is possible thanks to new conductive yarns. Jacquard yarn structures combine thin, metallic alloys with natural and synthetic yarns like cotton, polyester, or silk, making the yarn strong enough to be woven on any industrial loom. Because of this yarn, sensitive areas can be woven at precise locations, anywhere on the textile. In addition, sensor grids can be woven throughout the textile, creating large, interactive surfaces. Google and Leviís have developed innovative techniques to attach the conductive yarns to connectors and tiny circuits, no larger than the button on a jacket. These miniaturized electronics capture touch interactions, and various gestures can be inferred using machine-learning algorithms. The captured touch and gesture data is wirelessly transmitted to mobile phones or other devices to control a wide range of functions, connecting the user to online services, apps, or phone features. LEDs, haptics, which is any form of interaction involving touch, and other embedded outputs provide feedback to the user, seamlessly connecting them to the digital world.
Jacquard components are cost-efficient to produce, and the yarns and fabrics can be manufactured with standard equipment used in mills around the world. One loom can generate as many different textile designs as there are people on the planet. Now that same loom can also weave in interactivity.
Jacquard is a blank canvas for the fashion industry. Designers can use it as they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics. Developers will be able to connect existing apps and service to Jacquard-enabled clothes and create new features specifically for the platform. The digital connectivity is provided through a smart tag that houses all the necessary electronics, and apart from this detachable tag, the whole interactive garment is washable and durable like regular denim.
One ethical issue that could come out of the Jacquard project is whether the clothing was ethically made. A recent building collapse in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of clothing factory workers put a spotlight on the sobering fact that people in poor countries often risk their lives working in unsafe factories. However, it can be nearly impossible to make sure the clothes you buy come from factories with safe working conditions. According to USA Today, ethically-made clothes make up a tiny fraction of 1% of the overall $3 trillion global fashion industry. Because the new smart clothes can be more time consuming and complex to make, I feel that Google and Leviís will treat their employees well and we hopefully will not hear about anything unethical regarding this project.
Google and Leviís have not announced a timeline for when any smart clothes would be commercially available, though Leviís global head of product innovation said the process would be iterative, fast, and fun. Smart clothing can help people interact more with the real world around them instead of constantly staring at phones.
Quote: ďYou would not call it a wearable, you would call it a jacketĒ - Poupyrev