SXSW: Dear God, Smart Clothing Is Real!

SXSW: Dear God, Smart Clothing Is Real!
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Just when thought you couldn’t have enough screens in your life, the clever people at Google and Levi’s have come up with the next big thing: an interactive jacket freeing people up from looking at screens, yet allowing them to remain in charge of their digital world.

The jacket was revealed at South by Southwest (SXSW) as a working product about to be shipped in the US in the next few months for a cool US$350.

Although the project was announced more than two years ago, the Levi’s smart trucker jacket is the first product to roll out from Project Jacquard.

The key point here is this jacket isn’t the end product, but merely the starting point as a working proof of concept.

Google hopes to develop a large amount of smart clothing utilising its Jacquard technology, which sees the smart fibres woven into the cloth – in this case, denim – which is first and foremost a garment. That means the garment will have to be able to end up in a washing machine and come out the other side working.

Speaking on a panel at SXSW, Google’s Ivan Poupyrev said the cruel things done to the smart fibres during the denim making process, including being blowtorched, was a key part of their learning.

“There’s no protection case for a jacket,” he said.

“By empowering the apparel industry to make smart clothing, it brought them one step closer to making the whole world interactive.”

The key point about this technology compared to say, Google Glass, is it’s subtle and it’s very use-driven and contextually relevant. In this product’s case, it’s primary driver is to allow a cyclist to keep his eyes on the road while still interacting with his phone for basic functions such as navigation, music selection and answering (or not) phone calls.

Paul Dillinger, vice president of global product innovation at Levi Strauss & Co., said this product was very different to wearables like a Fitbit, in that it allowed you to interact rather than just record or monitor. It gives you the full contextually relevant interaction possibilities.

Again, what this means for advertisers is another piece of the puzzle to work out, because there’s no screen to stick your ad, but there’s a way to be useful and frictionless in someone’s life.

This is the beginning of a very interesting era because Google’s Jacquard has been designed from the ground up as part of the clothing industry, which means it can be spun on any loom anywhere in the world and doesn’t need technology experts to work with it.

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