This year's Google I/O gave us Android M and updated Google Cardboard, along with free and unlimited photo storage. But it wouldn't be Google if there weren't also some moonshots in there. We go hands-on with one of them, Project Jacquard.
Project Jacquard is the latest wacky yet perhaps world-changing innovation from Google's ATAP lab. The idea is simple: weave conductive yarns into textiles, that can make your clothes act like touchscreens.
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Jacquard's touch-sensitive yarns use thin, metallic alloys combined with standard yarn from materials like cotton or silk – making smart yarn that's both touch-sensitive and strong enough to be woven into practically any piece of clothing.
Jacquard yarns can either have prominent stitching – isolated patterns that make it clear to the wearer which part of their shirt doubles as a controller – or woven seamlessly (basically invisibly) into the textile as a whole. And Google's goal is for the rest of the tech (Bluetooth radios and whatnot, so your pants can connect to your smartphone) to be as small as a button.
What's the point, you ask? Well, one possible use is the home of the future. As connected home devices take off over the next decade (something Google is also working on), we'll want quick, easy-access methods of controlling them. Wearable gadgets like smartwatches are one way to do that, but the clothes we're already wearing are another.
One example Google showed us at I/O was using touch-sensitive fabric to control Philips' Hue lights. In our Google I/O demo, a quick tap of the clothing turned the lights on and off, a swipe to the right scrolled through different color settings and swipes up and down changed the brightness.
When woven into something like a shirt sleeve or jeans leg, this could make for the easiest way possible to tweak your lighting – no matter what else you're busy with.
In our demo, the fabric responded to touch just like a smartphone or laptop trackpad would. Nothing felt odd about the touch-sensitive portions, and live feedback on a monitor showed that it was detecting a wide array of pressure levels (it felt much more sensitive than many laptop touchpads we've used).
Right now Project Jacquard is a blank canvas for designers and developers. While uses like controlling your Hue lights may make for an immediate "a-ha!" moment, there's a world of possibility that's only going to be limited by designers' and software developers' imaginations.
At the very least, Project Jacquard is going to make for some of the strangest collaborations the tech world has ever seen. Together at last: Philips and Hanes, or Nest and Levi's? These are the wacky melting-pot ideas that can catch us all off-guard and – maybe, just maybe – change how we interact with the world.
You can find out more about Project Jacquard in the video below.
Project page: Google