Google has been very active in the artificial intelligence space. From Google Glasses to smart cars to AlphaGo, the search engine juggernaut is exploring many ways to integrate technology into our daily lives. The company is now developing “smart” fabrics that can be used as a digital interface to link to your smartphone or any other device. Their biggest success so far has been Jacquard, a denim biking jacket developed in collaboration with Levi’s, one of America’s most iconic clothing brands.
What’s in the Jacquard Weave?
At the heart of the project is a conductive yarn they’re calling Jacquard. The yarn is made from thin metallic alloys that are then combined with natural and synthetic fibers such as cotton, silk and polyester to give them strength and durability, as well as the ability to act as a digital interface for touch and gesture interactiveness.
Once the yarn is prepared, it can be put into a standard loom and introduced in specific areas of the cloth. Google says that you can create precise areas that will respond to touch and swipe motions, or you can create “sensor grids” on the cloth that will behave as large interactive surfaces – just like a trackpad but built into your clothing.
The first choice for Google to try out this technology was Bay area neighbor and America’s favorite denim maker Levi Strauss and Company. More than 140 years ago Levi’s started making work clothes that would withstand much harsher wear and tear conditions than regular clothes. This was the time after the California Gold Rush, and Levi’s created its iconic blue jean fabric that would change American fashion forever.
Levi’s Commuter: The World’s First Denim-Jacquard Jacket
This is a very special jacket that has connectors and circuits built into it that use the conductive nature of the Jacquard yarn in the fabric. But none of this “tech” is larger than the size of a button so it’s very discreet. All of the connectivity is built into these button-sized “tags” that are detachable, leaving the rest of the jacket completely washable just like you’d treat any other jacket.
What it does is to use machine learning algorithms to transmit touch and gestures to any connected device through the tag, such as your iPhone or other smart mobile device.
Machine learning is the basis of all artificial intelligence and is used in applications like Apple Siri, Amazon’s Echo Tap, Microsoft’s Cortana, IBM’s Watson and Google Now.
But don’t worry, you won’t end up looking like a poorly designed cyborg from a bad 80s science fiction movie. This is what the Levi’s Commuter looks like:
How Far Can This Technology Go?
With the power of artificial intelligence embedded into it the applications of this fabric are tremendous. The conductive yarn can be used with any fabric material to make clothing, furniture and the like. Imagine being able to control your smart TV, your phone, the lighting in your house, all your appliances and your home security system from the upholstered arm of your favorite chair!
But Jacquard isn’t that advanced yet. For now, with the tag attached, you can link the jacket to your smartphone to get directions, access your music and even dismiss phone calls. But because this yarn and the connecting hardware can be used with any fabric, we could soon be seeing a wide range of applications for Jacquard.
In a sense, Google and Levi’s are redefining the term “wearable tech” and turning it into a practical application that can be embedded into the very clothes we wear. Companies like Nike and Under Armour are already experimenting with their own versions of high-tech fabrics that literally act as a second skin, sending information about your body temperature, heartbeat and other parameters wirelessly to connected devices.
In a few years, that scenario I spoke about may become a reality in your home – control everything literally from the comfort of your favorite chair or couch or recliner.
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