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Connected Clothes From Google And Levi’s: Project Jacquard

Everyone’s been talking about wearables the last few years; fitness trackers and smart watches have become status symbols among many of the tech-savvy.

But why worry about something you have to continually take off-and-on, or is easily breakable? Connected wearables may soon be replaced by connected clothing, which is already on the market in several forms. A smart compression shirt can monitor your heartbeat a lot more effectively and efficiently than a tracker, a smart bathing suit can warn you to put on more sunscreen or find a shady spot for a while, and a smart baby sock can be a more reliable way to monitor your infant than a wireless camera.
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All of those products are available right now, but they’re all the result of a “limited” design process. Google and Levi’s are thinking much bigger with a cooperative effort called Project Jacquard.


The Concept Behind Project Jacquard

You may be familiar with traditional Jacquard fabrics. They’re strong yet pliable cloth created on a Jacquard loom, with the patterns woven into the fabric rather than dyed or printed after weaving. The process has been used for more than 200 years; and damask and brocade are two of the common Jacquard fabrics often used to upholster furniture.
making-clothes-intelligent-2All images credits: https://atap.google.com/

Google and Levi’s have taken the process into the 21st century. It begins with a yarn that combines natural material like cotton with specially-manufactured strands of metallic alloys. The final product is a “conductive yarn” that looks and feels like any other and can be woven on looms. But it also has the ability to conduct electrical current.

The purpose should now be obvious: any type of clothing can be woven with this yarn, and the design patterns can either include small areas which respond to touch (or even gestures), or larger sensor grids that capture information. Small microcircuits are attached to the yarn, so information can be transmitted wirelessly to phones, tablets or other devices. Embedded components like LEDs can also send signals back to the wearer, if desired.


Is This Just a Cool Idea, or Is It Real?

It’s very real. Since Levi’s is a partner in Project Jacquard, connected jeans and jackets are among the initial products which will be released beginning this year. And a connected trucker jacket was shown in public for the first time this spring, at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival in Austin.

The Jacquard smart yarn is woven into a pattern with a conductive patch on one sleeve of the jacket. When you motion with your left hand, signals are sent via Bluetooth to your phone just as if you were using a touchscreen device. The actual signal transmission is handled by a cufflink-style clip-on. Except for the barely-distinguishable cufflink, the smart jacket looks just like a Levi’s denim jacket and can even be washed the same way (as long as you take the cufflink off first).

Release of the jacket and other Jacquard demin clothing is expected late in 2017 after testing is complete. Google envisions that even the early versions of these “truly” wearable smart products will allow wearers to easily access products like Google Play or Google Maps even while biking or driving.

In the meantime, that smart baby sock is available today and would be a great status symbol in any parents’ group.
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