Levis and Google Partnering on a “smart jacket”
With the exception of activity trackers and smartwatches, it’s fair to say that wearable technology hasn’t really taken off just yet, but if Google and Levi’s have their way, that could soon be about to change.
The two companies are teaming up to release their first co-designed product – the world’s first ‘smart’ trucker jacket (yep, that’s a thing now). It looks for the most part like a regular Levi’s Commuter jacket, but with a conductive fabric called “interactive denim” and a Bluetooth device that attaches to the sleeve.
It was back in 2015 that Google first announced its plan to make connected clothing like this – dubbed Project Jacquard – and the Levi’s jacket will be the first garment incorporating the technology.
What makes the jacket possible are tiny electronic circuits woven into the fabric, enabling a small area on the side of the sleeve – composed of 15 conductive threads – to be touch-sensitive.
When paired with a small cufflink-style Bluetooth insert that slides into a hole next to this on the sleeve, touches and gestures that are detected by the interactive denim can then be transmitted to a smartphone or other connected device.
So, let’s say you’re listening to music on your phone and want to skip to the next track. Rather than having to dig it out of your pocket, a quick slide or tap on the sleeve of your jacket is all you’d need to do.
Similar gestures could also be used to adjust the volume, answer or decline incoming calls, or interact with navigation features in a GPS app.
When it’s released later in the year, the jacket will come with an app so that you can customise the specific functions you want the five kinds of gestures to control: slide forward, slide back, double tap, full palm press, and a circular movement.
The jacket can also provide subtle vibrations so you can be alerted to incoming calls or messages.
The best part is, once you take the Bluetooth dongle out of its cufflink pouch, the entirety of the jacket can be washed like regular clothing without damaging the circuitry woven into the fabric.
It also means that – aside from when the fairly small Bluetooth adapter is inserted – the whole jacket is totally inconspicuous and largely indistinguishable from any other trucker jacket.
That could be an important selling factor, given one of Google’s previous forays into wearable tech – Google Glass – was criticised and ridiculed for overtly displaying so much technology on your face.
“At first, we wanted to put a display on it, the bigger the better,” the leader of Google’s Advanced Technology And Products (ATAP) group, Ivan Poupyrev, told the crowd at a SXSW panel in Austin, Texas on the weekend.
“But [Levi’s] said ‘No, there can’t be blinks on the jacket, we don’t do that. Our customers are cool urban people and blinking on your jacket is uncool.'”
Having adopted a more minimalist integration of technology looks like it could have other perks aside from aesthetics and washability.
Google and Levi’s say the embedded conductive fibres can be weaved into garments using standard industrial looms and mills – meaning if the smart trucker jacket is a hit, we might soon start to see this kind of technology rolled out in lots of other garments.
Of course, there’s no guarantee it will be a hit, as the wearables category has proven notoriously difficult to crack.
Outside of activity trackers like Fitbits which sell well and are relatively cheap, more expensive wearable products like the Apple Watch haven’t exactly set the world on fire so far.
While there’s a market for dedicated sports and health products, other wearables seem to have been marketed mostly as a gimmick – like this pair of Pizza Hut-ordering smart sneakers.
But we have to say we’re pretty impressed with what we’ve seen of Project Jacquard so far – although the smart jacket won’t come cheap.
It’s due for release in the US fall, and will retail for US$350.
Will people want to spend so much for a chance to wear the world’s first smart jacket? We won’t have to wait long to find out.