The future of wearable tech isn’t on your wrist or in the sole of your running shoe — it’s woven into the fabric of your clothing. This is the promise of a new kind of smart fabric, the result of a recent collaboration between Levi’s and Google’s textile-focused research and development team, Project Jacquard. The Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard Trucker Jacket, announced at last week’s Google’s I/O conference, is the first in a line of products that will utilize the new technology.
The jacket’s cuffs feature thin, metallic alloys woven directly into small patches of fabric, spun together with natural and synthetic fabrics like cotton, polyester and silk. A small, strap-like device — a “tag” — latches onto a button-sized plug on the jacket’s cuff and connects the fabric to your phone via Bluetooth. By tapping or swiping the cuff, you can do things like answer calls, control music and access voice-assisted GPS, all without having to take out your phone. The tag responds to you verbally via headphones connected to your phone, as well as with vibration and a small LED light. You can customize the controls from the ground up with the accompanying Jacquard app — for example, you can set it to recognize two quick taps as a command to direct you home, or a swipe to the right as a command to play the next song on your playlist.
By tapping or swiping the cuff, you can do things like answer calls, control music and access voice-assisted GPS, all without having to take out your phone.
The fabric is “smart,” for sure — but the real breakthrough here is that it doesn’t look smart. It looks and feels like a normal denim jacket. Beat it up, throw it in the washer or crumple it into a ball on your bedroom floor, and the tech will remain intact. All you need to do is remember to charge the smart tag via USB every few days, and to remove it before giving the jacket a wash.
The new smart-fabric technology isn’t limited to denim jackets. It can, according to Google, be woven into almost any fabric and can be produced cheaply at any existing industrial-scale textile factory, which is good news for clothing makers who aren’t yet familiar with smart fabrics. This wide-ranging versatility means that every article of clothing you wear has the potential to become digitized, data-driven pieces of technology. (Smart belts? Smart couches? Smart underwear?)
When the jacket is released next spring, urban cyclists and everyday pedestrians will land a good-looking jacket, a first-of-its-kind piece of wearable tech, a new way to control our digital devices and another reason to keep your phone in your pocket, where it often belongs.