As some of you may be aware, Google closed its I/O 2015 conference yesterday. Amongst all the unveiled projects, one special experiment caught fashiontech enthusiasts’ attention: Project Jacquard. This new system to weave technology into fabric will transform our clothes into interactive surfaces. Allowing designers and developers to build connected, touch-sensitive textiles into their own creations. Back on Wednesday, I was speaking at a think-tank day dedicated to e-textiles in Nantes. I even tried to incorporate electronics into fabrics myself. So you can imagine how excited I am to see what designers and makers will be able to do with it!
Weaving technology into fabrics
Ok, lets step back one second to recap what this is all about. The project was unveiled by Google’s Advanced Technology & Projects (ATAP) team during Google annual developer conference, the I/O 2015. Under development since early 2014, Project Jacquard will allow to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile, thanks to standard industrial looms.
“The structure of a capacitive touch sensing device is very similar to that of a woven fabric,” ATAP Design Lead Carsten Schwesig told EE Times. “The core of what we’re doing is replacing some of these yarns with conductive yarns.”
During the conference, Google demonstrated some use cases for the smart fabric, through broad gestures, users could turn on lights and play music on a smartphone. It could be used in automotive interiors, to develop new medical fabrics… But what’s actually interesting in this project is that it was built as a generic technology designed without a specific use case in mind, leaving a full range of possibilities for developers, makers and designers to build their own thing out of it.
Yarns can be woven using 3D techniques and then connected to a microcontroller to create a low-power touchpad.
“The structure of textiles is the same as the structure of the touchscreens built into phones and other mobile devices,” says Ivan Poupyrev, technical program lead for Google ATAP. “If you replace some of the threads in textiles with conductive threads, you should be able to weave the textile into something that can recognize a variety of simple touch gestures.”
To learn more about how it works, watch below video:
Partnering with Levi’s & other fashion brands in a near future
But that’s not all, after announcing this exciting project, Google unveiled a partnership with our favorite jeans’ brand: Levi’s. Now, the two companies are working together to tackle an ambitious challenge to develop their smart fabrics on a global scale, aiming at bridging the gap between “a beautiful richly textured real world” and a digital world.
“We’re trying to scale this to multiple clothes and brands, and have to think about making textiles at the global garment industry scale, which makes 1 billion garments a year,” ATAP Team Lead Ivan Poupyrev said. “We need to make these garments available using existing manufacturing supply chains and techniques.”
What it means for us, FashTech enthusiasts
With this project, Google steps into the big game of tech clothing. Empowering developers, designers and makers to do their own wearable tech? Of course, but this first means Google is trying to take its part of the big cake. Because the clothing industry is quite a treasure of itself. With billions of dollars spent all around the world, we all can understand how finding innovations to reinvent the fashion industry can be attractive! But what’s really interesting here, is that it brings the technology to fashion people who don’t necessarily need to have an electronics background. It brings them fabrics with incorporated tech, that can be shown or not, upon their will. Such a clever move from Google, as we know it is still trying to learn how to make tech fashionable. Yet, as these are just announcements for now, we’ll still have to wait to see how Google’s Project Jacquard will change the game. Another announcement from Google worth your attention? Project Soli – a gesture-sensing radar for wearable tech.
If you want to learn how you can do your own wearable tech, I suggest you to visit Smooth Wearable, a blog dedicated to teach how to start empowering your clothes, created by the young and pretty Alice I met in Nantes last Wednesday. Thanks to Arduino‘s open source electronic prototyping platform, anyone can create interactive electronic objects and clothing!