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Google and Levi's team up on smart clothes

Sharon Gaudin | June 2, 2015
Your jacket or pants could soon control your phone or home security.

Google conductive yarn
Smart clothing can be made from conductive yarn. Credit: Sharon Gaudin/Computerworld

Google executives have a vision that one day soon your jacket, shirt, pants -- even your socks -- might control your phone, tablet or even the lights in your house.

Ivan Poupyrev, Google's technical program lead, received wild applause at a morning session at Google I/O today when he talked about Project Jacquard.

The project isn't about a new smartphone or tablet or even a giant humanoid robot. It's about smart textiles that could change the way we connect and communicate with our environment and devices. They can also track health and physical activity. (Yes, your pants will know if you're sitting on the couch instead of doing power squats.)

The effort might seem odd for a global online search giant, but Google is also deeply involved in emerging technology like self-driving cars, robotics and high-flying balloons that can offer Internet access in remote regions.

Now it's looking to move beyond smartphones and even smart watches. Why not control a device by swiping a hand down your shirt sleeve or rubbing your fingers together over your jacket or pants? Why not have socks that track your heart rate and the number of miles you've run?

With those possibilities in mind, Google announced today that it has partnered with Levi Strauss & Co. to create smart clothing.

"If we can get people to sit and talk face-to-face, instead of having their face looking down at their mobile phone, that's delivering value," Paul Dillinger, vice president of innovation for the Levi's brand, told a roomful of developers at Google I/O this morning. "This is something we want to get behind. Now, my friends, you are all fashion designers along with us. It's going to be fast and fun, and we want you to come on with us."

Poupyrev began by talking about Project Soli, which uses a small radar sensor to track hand gestures. Instead of controlling a smart watch or a smart phone by swiping your fingers across its screen, you can simply make a swiping motion in the air and the device will respond as if you'd touched it.

"Your hand can becomes a variety of controls - a scroller, a slider or anything else," said Poupyrev. "Your hand can be a complete, self-contained control. Your hand can be an interface. It can be the only interface device you ever need for your wearables."

Google took what it learned from Project Soli and radar sensors and moved on to Project Jacquard, which relies on sensors built into the yarn or other fibers used to create smart clothing.


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