Google debuts new electronic smart fabrics

Fabric woven with the Project Jacquard conductive yarn. Image courtesy of Google.
Fabric woven with the Project Jacquard conductive yarn. Image courtesy of Google.

Computing company Google has this week announced the latest secretive project from its ATAP (Advanced Technology and Projects) division.

Called ‘Jacquard’, this new project involves the creation of so-called smart fabrics to be used by clothes manufacturers.

These smart fabrics are textiles which are embedded with high tech electronics which integrate seamlessly into their traditional designs. While some work in this field has been ongoing for several years, this is the first time a major company has put its weight behind the tech.

In order to make such smart fabrics a real possibility, Google has produced an electronically conductive yarn which can be spun into a number of different synthetic, as well as natural textiles.

“We made the yarn very thin and feel so natural, […] the only thing that is different, is that it is conductive,” said Shiho Fukuhara, Textile Development and Partnership Lead at Project Jacquard.

Once connected to a specialised chipset about the size of a button, this high-tech yarn enables whole regions of garments to be transformed into touch-enabled surfaces, allowing for the unobtrusive control of connected devices.

Furthermore, these smart fabrics can also provide many of the same functionalities as popular fitness tracking wearables, able to measure metrics such as heart rate and body position.

Google hopes that this new technology will create a market for more subtle wearable devices.

“If you can hide or weave interactivity into the devices and into the materials, it will be the first step to making computers and computing invisibly integrated into objects, material and clothing,” explains Ivan Poupyrev, the founder of Project Jacquard.

While there has been no direct suggestion by Google of a singular use-case for a product using this new technology, the company is looking to work with both developers and designers in order bring it quickly to the market.

Already Google has confirmed that it is working closely with Levi Strauss & Co, as its first design partner.

Unlike other ATAP projects, Jacquard looks already quite close to market, however Google is yet to release a time frame on when the public will have access to the first smart clothes.