Smart clothes: Levi’s & Google working on interactive, device-linked fabric

Screenshot from YouTube user Google ATAP
Google has announced its cooperation with Levi’s to design wearable technology by weaving touch-pad style capabilities into the fabric. The new technology would enable people to make phone calls and send messages just by swiping their clothes.

Items like jeans, sweaters, jackets, carpets and even furniture could potentially be turned into an interactive device, to be used like a trackpad or button, according to Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP), which is in charge of the development.

Project Jacquard – named after the inventor of a type of loom – was revealed during the internet giant’s annual developers’ conference in San Francisco on Friday.

“We are enabling interactive textiles,” ATAP’s Emre Karagozler said while showing off the new smart textiles. “We do it by weaving conductive threads into fabric.”

To answer one of the key questions around the material itself, Karagozler explained: “It is stretchable; it is washable … It is just like normal fabric.”

The new type of threads used for the material can be woven into any shape, size or pattern and be made either to stand out or be invisible.

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The interactive material would be able to understand various gestures like crossing your legs or swiping your sleeve with your fingers.

The special fabric would also be capable of sending the data wirelessly to smartphones and other devices, opening up an array of new types of applications, aside from the most basic communication commands like placing a phone call and sending a text message.

“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,” Vice President of Innovation for Levi’s said.

While not exactly an option for everyone, the interactive fabric would even be capable of notifying its wearer if they were gaining weight and be ready to suggest gyms, yoga classes and offer other health-related tips, founder of software development company FocusMotion, Grant Hughes noted.

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What makes this technology easy to pursue is that any industrial loom can weave these innovative threads into any fabric, according to Project Jacquard.

“The challenge of creating Jacquard yarn was to create yarn that is highly conductive and at the same time scalable, which means it could be used on industrial weaving machines everywhere in the world,” Project Jacquard founder and technical program lead at Google's ATAP, Ivan Poupyrev said.

It will be up to developers, designers and, notably, consumers across the globe to determine how far the cutting-edge technology will become interwoven into our everyday lives. So far, it is not clear how the wonder-threads will ramp-up the costs of clothing, or when their mass production can be anticipated.