Only a few years have passed since wearable technologies first appeared with smartwatches and a new revolution is already knocking at the door. It’s now not just about wearing a hi-tech watch on your wrist – you can take it even further with a ‘smart jacket’! The technology behind it all is called the ‘Jacquard Project’ and was developed by Google ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects).
What is the Jacquard Project?
This is the name Google has chosen for a particular weaving system (this weaving system and fabric take its name from the inventor Joseph-Marie Jacquard) that allows you to combine electronic yarns with natural yarns. In other words, it is possible to obtain a fabric made of metal alloys and natural elements such as cotton, creating a kind of technological fibre (see more details on https://atap.google.com/jacquard/). Natural materials and electronic materials combined together can be successfully processed with existing industrial looms and gives rise to a fabric that can transform coated normal surfaces in technological surfaces.
A surface covered with Jacquard fabric becomes sensitive to the touch of the finger; at this point, the electronic weave detects the input and transmits it to miniaturised circuits that are able to send signals wirelessly to a smartphone or other device. It therefore no longer becomes necessary to interact directly with the smartphone directly – all you need to do now is to brush or tap on the sleeve to send a command.
Reducing distractions for cyclists
The first commercial use of this unique Jacquard weave looks to be coming from Levi’s. The company, in partnership with Google, has in fact created the Levi’s® Commuter™ Trucker Jacket that allows those who wear it to stay connected with their smartphone without having to hold it in their hands.
On the Levi’s website, the Levi’s® Commuter ™ jacket line is presented as a collection designed for the modern urban cyclist. In fact, for those who usually ride a bicycle to get to work or around the city, the jacket greatly reduces distractions from traffic and other obstacles caused by manually controlling a smartphone. You can simply brush your hand on the sleeve of the jacket to carry out actions such as:
- Manage calls
- Play music
- Check messages, calendar and nearby places
- Get directions from Google Maps
You can do this while you are pedalling without having to pull your phone out of your pocket and risk a dangerous incident in the process. Different hand gestures control the various actions that are available. The sensor, located on one of the cuffs, detects the right-hand movements that are sent via a Bluetooth transmitter to an app installed on the smartphone. Three types of gestures are currently recognised:
- Scrolling from top to bottom
- Scrolling from bottom to top
- A touch on the cuff
A smart idea?
The ‘smart’ version of Levi’s jacket will be available in autumn 2017 at a cost of around $350. Regardless of the cost; using the new Jacquard weaving technology this demonstrates that it is now possible to weave electronic yarns along with natural ones to create interactive and connected fabrics.
Even though the jacket has been designed primarily for urban cyclists, it could be useful to anyone who wants to avoid being distracted by their smartphone while engaged in other activities. Although it is made up of a technological fabric, it can also be washed in a normal washing machine. All you need to do is remove the Bluetooth transmitter first, which will occasionally need recharging through a USB port.
Any surface could now potentially become ‘smart’ if designed in such a way. In the industry of clothing and fashion, a new opportunity has now opened up to offer customers interactive cyber-clothing, where until now technology in clothing has been marginal or absent. This certainly could pave the way for a real revolution in wearable technology, as it is no longer about having an additional physical device like a smartwatch – it can now be woven straight into the fabric of everyday items of clothing.