Words by Antti Rimminen | Pictures courtesy of Google ATAP & Levi's

Over the years there has been a lot of conversation about combining textile design and technology, but we are still waiting for a wearable product to become a true commercial success.

Could this be because technology is moving faster than fashion? Even though the fashion industry has often been blamed for being too fast, it also seems that new technological innovations become old so quickly that the fashion world does not have the time to design and test products as they would just be “old technology” by the time they reach the stores.

Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects group (ATAP) introduced their Project Jacquard in 2015 and last year announced the first collaboration to go into production. ATAP has partnered with Levi’s who is launching an interactive denim jacket for the urban cyclist as part of their “Commuter” line. The product is expected to hit selected stores this spring.

Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms. This is possible thanks to new conductive yarns, created in collaboration with ATAP’s industrial partners. Jacquard yarn structures combine thin, metallic alloys with natural and synthetic yarns like cotton, polyester, or silk, making the yarn strong enough to be woven on any industrial loom. They are indistinguishable from the traditional yarns that are used to produce fabrics today.

Conductive yarns - Project Jacquard

Using these conductive yarns, bespoke touch and gesture-sensitive areas can be woven at precise locations, anywhere on the textile. Alternatively, sensor grids can be woven throughout the textile, creating large, interactive surfaces. The digital connectivity is provided through a smart tag that houses all the necessary electronics, and apart from this detachable tag, the whole interactive garment is washable like regular denim. Connected clothes offer new possibilities for interacting with services, devices, and environments.

Smart tag in the sleeve of a denim jacket - Project Jacquard

Jacquard is a blank canvas for the fashion industry. Designers can use it as they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics. ATAP states that developers will be able to connect existing apps and services to Jacquard-enabled clothes and create new features specifically for the platform. However, a developer’s kit or product release date have not yet been announced.

It will be interesting to see if this innovation is finally the one that makes a breakthrough in the consumer market.