Google’s Project Jacquard Aims To Make “Activewear” A Reality

Google’s Project Jacquard Aims To Make “Activewear” A Reality

The real innovations will happen when developers see what Google has up its sleeves.

Most wearable devices are passive. They read data, then spit it back out at you with a buzz on your wrist, or—if they’re really good—via an app that can actually interpret what that data means. But aside from a few simple controls for music or answering a connected phone, wearables have yet to truly make the leap from absorbing data to providing meaningful ways for users to control the world around them.

That problem is especially pronounced for wearables made of fabric rather than plastic, says Nick Langston, head of the Wearables Lab at TE Connectivity.

“Today, what’s been going on in smart garments is sort of passive from the consumer’s perspective,” says Langston, whose company has partnered with Google on its Project Jacquard smart-textiles initiative, which was first unveiled at I/O in May. “That is, your garments are going to have intelligence that’s going to be reading information about you, whether it’s your motion or your heart rate or your breathing or your temperature, it’s just going to be taking information from you in a passive way, where you don’t really have to engage it.”

Jacquard looks to change that paradigm, however. Langston says Ivan Poupyrev, the project’s technical program lead, has a unique vision for how smart textiles can not only catch up to the rest of the wearable world, but possibly even outpace it:

What’s really fascinating about Project Jacquard, where Ivan really has vision, he’s the first guy to attack this and say the clothing itself ought to be an interactive thing. It ought to provide us an opportunity to interact with devices around us. That’s the breakthrough that Project Jacquard is really talking about—now, instead of just passive data collection, your clothing is an opportunity for you to interact with devices. And to a large extent, this approach is just brand new.

How TE Connectivity Fits

According to Langston, Google approached TE in the summer of 2014 to help them “integrate the electronics into the fabric environment.”

“We’re a company that makes connectors,” he says. While he can’t go into too much detail without violating nondisclosure agreements, Langston explains that “what we’ve delivered to Google is a process and tools that make it possible for a normal garment manufacturer to integrate the technology in Jacquard.

“Garment factories are not at all like contract manufacturers,” he continues. “They’re not going to solder anything. They want to use heat presses, they want to use laser cutters, they want to use the traditional tools they have, not soldering irons or clean rooms.”

The challenge for TE, he says, was in reinventing the connector itself.
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