Project Jacquard and the Commuter Jacket


Photo by The Verge

Ever since the invention of the modern-day headphones, wearable technology has been integrated more and more into our daily lives. In recent years, tech companies such as Motorola, Apple, Pebble, Samsung, and Garmin have tried to revolutionize the industry with the smartwatch: the newest device in wearable tech. Yet, all-mighty Google hasn’t attempted any innovative product in the market. What could Google be up to?

In 2014, Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP) hired Ivan Poupyrev, a research scientist who was previously employed by Sony and the Imagineering Department at Disney. He envisioned the idea of merging textiles with technology, the epitome of the wearable tech experience. His team experimented with thin metal alloys to be woven with natural and synthetic fibers to create a conductive textile. After perfecting their thin cloth, the group, renamed Project Jacquard, announced an official collaboration with Levi’s at their Google I/O conference in 2015. Fast forward to today: meet the new Levi’s x Google Commuter Jacket.

This denim jacket may look like an ordinary jacket, but it’s meant for so much more than fashion. Designed for the urban commuter, Project Jacquard technology allows the user to communicate with their phone without reaching into their pocket. Jacquard conductive fibers are embedded within the denim on the left sleeve, and a snap tag attaches to the cuff to allow the user to control their phone with a swipe of their sleeve. The technology is all in the tag: a bluetooth radio, haptic motors for vibration, and LEDs for notifications. Programming the gestures requires the Jacquard app, available on phones running iOS 10/Android 6.0.1 or newer.

Before you rush online to try to purchase the ‘electronic jacket’, note that the functionality is limited, as it is fairly new in development. The user can program swipe gestures on their sleeve to play/stop music, command the next direction on their route, or read all their phone notifications. All audio is routed to the user’s headphones, which could be wired or wireless. Although these features may be small, the potential for more useful swipe controls is as great as the demand for the interest in electronic clothing. With companies like Google and Levi’s at the forefront, there might be some competition in the near future. Whether the $350 price tag is justified is completely up to those bold pioneers of Jacquard technology, and the consumer.

There’s no denying that this is the future. This is one of the first attempts at an electronic clothing concept, and the technology has arrived at a spectacular time. Today, scientists constantly push the boundaries more than ever, exploring artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and robotics to digitize the human experience. Google has taken a leap of faith with Project Jacquard to discover new methods of controlling electronic devices. We can only hope that tech companies will follow suit to transform not only the consumer market, but the ways we use technology in our everyday lives.

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