Remember that scene in “Avengers: Infinity War” when the Border Tribe warriors throw up their blue shawls to create an energy shield? The fantasy nation of Wakanda is a scientific marvel, portrayed as boasting technology decades ahead the rest of the world. Weaving quasi-magical powers into their people’s clothing is one such example. The truth is however, this particular fantasy may not be as far off as we thought. Google’s Project Jacquard began as far back as 2014 and a year later, the earliest conductive threads were manufactured in a factory in Japan.
What is Project Jacquard?
Google created Project Jacquard to upgrade the way we use clothing. Their aim was to design and incorporate new hardware to completely overhaul our concepts of convenience, comfort, functionality, efficiency, and fashion by putting it all together in a device literally on our person. Wearable textiles (tech-stiles?) are perhaps not news, but neither was the portable phone when Apple came along. Similarly, Google has raised the bar by pushing the boundaries of what most consider novelty items, and taking them past prototypes into commercial viability.
“Our focus has always been to add a new layer of connectivity and interactivity to things you already know, love, and use every day,” Jacquard explains on their website. “By starting with raw materials, such as yarns and textiles, we found ways to provide unprecedented access to the digital world through items that aren’t typically considered to be technology. So your most beloved items – a favorite jacket, a pair of shoes, the bag you take everywhere – will keep you connected to your digital life in new, seamless ways.”
What does it do?
Jacquard takes everyday technological conveniences and weaves them into the fabric of your clothes. It means you’ll be able to connect to digital life without having to reach for your smartphone or boot up your computer. With a literal brush of your cuff, you can “navigate your life while living it.” Examples of what you’ll be able to include:
“Stay focused on where you’re going, not your screen,” says Jacquard. With navigation tech stitched into your jacket you don’t have to keep glancing at your phone while driving, or fumbling with GPS at traffic lights.
Communicate without carrying a phone
The coolest one in our opinion – You can answer or ignore calls with a swipe across the cuff of your shirt. Or check your texts while you’re on the go.
Manage your music
Just tap your sleeve and you can adjust volume, pause, change, and skip the current song you’re listening to on your device.
Even just walking from place to place is taken to the next level. You can drop location pins wherever you go with a simple gesture. That location is then saved to your Activity, so you can easily find it later. You can even share pins with friends. Everything’s even accessible right on Google Play.
How does it work?
Everything about how Jacquard works is embedded into the electronics. The conductive metal alloys used are incredibly thin, so they combine seamlessly (no pun intended) with a variety of natural or synthetic fibers. It’s not like you’ve got an iPhone stitched into your sleeve – once spun, Jacquard Threads have the weight and feel of normal yarn.
That means that since they look, feel and perform like any other kind of yarn, they can be woven using traditional techniques and equipment. This is one of the primary reasons Jacquard is so exciting – the possibility that this tech could be implemented all over the world with standard textile practices is amazing indeed. “We’re trying to shrink all the components down to the size of a button,” says Jacquard’s Research and Development Lead Nan-Wei Gong. “Ultimately this will be something that’s so small that we can embed it into the manufacturing process.”
Jacquard is now working with Levi’s
At the 2015 I/O conference Jacquard excitedly announced their partnership with Levi’s, and on September 27, 2017 their Levi’s Commuter Trucker jacket went on sale. This was one of many firsts for Levi’s, but a particularly exciting moment for the Jacquard team, who got to see their dream put on a more public platform. “The Jacquard vision centers around expanding the functionality of the clothes people already wear and love. And that’s exactly what we did with Levi’s.”
Is this the future?
We’re still a ways from vibranium-powered kinetic barriers woven into every pack of underwear, but Jacquard has shown us a reality that is not outside our reach.
Do you think Jacquard is giving us a glimpse into the future with this technology? Let us know in the comments below, and stay tuned for updates on the coolest line of clothing to hit the market.