The era of seriously smart clothing is closer than you think. The alliance between Levi’s and Google, announced last year, is set to bear fruit next spring. WGSN Global News Editor Nigel Taylor reports
The Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket, which goes into beta testing this autumn, promises to allow people to answer calls, get directions and play music with the touch of an arm, a tap of a cuff, or a press of a coat button.
The smart jacket is expected to go to market for both men and women in spring 2017, in various US cities, before broader release in Europe and Asia later in the year.
The technology, revealed by Google last week at its annual developer conference in California’s Silicon Valley, is based on Google’s Project Jacquard, which is working on conductive yarns that can be woven into everyday materials and connected to miniature processors that fit into a coat button.
The prototype is aimed initially at bicycle commuters who can tap, swipe or hold on the left cuff of the sleeve to fulfill simple tasks like changing music tracks, blocking or answering calls or accessing navigation information (delivered by voice) – all functions that can be sustained while riding in place of having to pull a phone out to do them.
The user can essentially programme the textile interface so their gestures have meanings that activate preferred functions. Using the Jacquard platform’s accompanying app, they can configure what they want primary and secondary uses to be from some of the aforementioned options ahead of time. They can also link to other known platforms including Spotify and GPS tracker Strava.
“Last year we left it quite open [what the product might be]; it could have been jeans or smart pants. But what we’ve now got is a functional and fashionable garment in the Commuter Jacket, where technology is serving a very clear purpose,” Ivan Poupyrev, technical programme lead at Google’s Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP) group, told Forbes.
Paul Dillinger, VP of global product innovation at Levi’s, added: “Wearables as a category is potentially vast and we didn’t want to get lost in that territory.
“When Google started talking about the value of the solution, to us it was somewhat valueless unless it could be assigned to a very explicit problem… What we came up with was the urban cyclist, and once we got our heads around the fact this had amazing potential for the guy and girl we’re already talking to who loves their Levi’s, loves riding their bike, and can really use this help, then the ideation process around the function became quite natural and fluid.”
Dillinger adds: “The real news is that we’ve made wearables that you can throw in the washing machine, and that still have functional technology afterwards. To actually do so, the strap [smart tag] on the cuff is snapped off, but the rest – including the textile interface – can all go through the wash process.”
Long-term, the aim for Levi’s is to expand Jacquard across a wider product assortment. To do so, the technology itself will be opened up to developers from early 2017 to create functionalities beyond the commuter market.
Google said it is also continuing to look at opportunities to work with new partners. Beyond the initial launch with Levi’s, Poupyrev’s team is exploring athletics, formal workwear and enterprise garments, as well as the luxury market.
STAY UP TO DATE: You want the need-to-know news, right? Our journalists deliver a daily curation of the most important industry happenings.