Jacquard is a “smart fabric” developed by Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group that could conceivably turn your sleeve into a touch screen. The team of digital and textile experts developing this conductive woven yarn want it to look and feel like any traditional garment. But this seemingly normal fashion will interact with digital devices. This is not meant as a tiny initiative either. Their vision is about scale, and allowing interactive fabric to be manufactured with existing processes. To make it all real, Google is partnering with designers, textile mills, and iconic brands like Levi’s.
There are two ways that Jacquard enables interactivity. The woven material is indistinguishable from traditional yarn, but it combines thin, metallic alloys with natural and synthetic yarns like cotton, polyester, or silk. That alloy in conductive, and can be programmed to recognized simple gestures. This essentially turns the garment surface into a touch screen. The second layer of interactivity is embedded micro devices. Garments can be sewn with tiny circuits or switches that enable data communication. For example, imagine that you could gesture on the fabric surface to scroll through a contact list, and then tapped a shirt button-turned-micro-device to initiate a phone call. Amazing.
Google unveiled the Jacquard project at the their annual developer conference. Similar to many open source ventures Google has lead, they say that “developers will be able to connect existing apps and services to Jacquard-enabled clothes and create new features specifically for the platform.” Developers, fashion designer, and users can sign up now to be kept up to date on how to get involved.
Although the exact details of what Google and Levi’s are co-developing has not be released, we do know that this partnership is one of the centerpieces of their vision decoupling touch interfaces from the digital device. The ATAP at Google has said they goal is to have Jacquard able to be woven on any industrial loom. Additionally, Levi’s brand can help with knowledge of iconic fashion, and durable, easy to wear fabrics.