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Levi's x Google: Fashion meets wearable tech

By Don-Alvin Adegeest

23 May 2016

Fashion

Wearable tech is about to become more fashionable as American denim giant Levi's is to trial a new smart jacket with Google. The new partnership between the world's leading multinational technology company and Levi's is to see its first product collaboration launch for spring summer 2017.

Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket

The jacket, officially known as the Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket, goes into beta testing this autumn. The technology behind it? It promises to allow people to answer calls, get directions and play music with the touch of an arm, a tap of a cuff, or a press of a coat button.

The technology, revealed by Google last week at its annual developer conference in California’s Silicon Valley, is based on Google's Project Jacquard, which is working on conductive yarns that can be woven into everyday materials and connected to miniature processors that fit into a coat button.

Garment initially targeted at urban cyclists

The prototype is aimed initially at bicycle commuters who can tap, swipe or hold on the left cuff of the sleeve to fulfill simple tasks like changing music tracks, blocking or answering calls or accessing navigation information (delivered by voice) – all functions that can be sustained while riding in place of having to pull a phone out to do them.

The user can essentially programme the textile interface so their gestures have meanings that activate preferred functions. Using the Jacquard platform’s accompanying app, they can configure what they want primary and secondary uses to be from some of the aforementioned options ahead of time. They can also link to other known platforms including Spotify and GPS tracker Strava.

“Last year we left it quite open [what the product might be]; it could have been jeans or smart pants. But what we’ve now got is a functional and fashionable garment in the Commuter Jacket, where technology is serving a very clear purpose,” Ivan Poupyrev, technical programme lead at Google’s Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP) group, told Forbes.

Paul Dillinger, VP of global product innovation at Levi’s, added: “Wearables as a category is potentially vast and we didn’t want to get lost in that territory.

“When Google started talking about the value of the solution, to us it was somewhat valueless unless it could be assigned to a very explicit problem. What we came up with was the urban cyclist, and once we got our heads around the fact this had amazing potential for the guy and girl we’re already talking to who loves their Levi’s, loves riding their bike, and can really use this help, then the ideation process around the function became quite natural and fluid.”

Not precious technology, durable for regular use and washing

Levi's says this is not "precious" technology. They want you to use it, to beat on it, to get it dirty. Then, you can throw it in the washing machine. Poupyrev says that this is a platform. You connect it over Bluetooth. The touch zone is visible with some threads, but it's not some big ugly wires. The area is "thin and flexible" There are some chips, though, they fit in the button loop on the sleeve — you just remove that part when you want to wash the jacket. The weave is durable enough to handle regular use. "We don't have to treat a Jacquard jacket differently from any other jacket," he says."

Long-term, the aim for Levi’s is to expand Jacquard across a wider product assortment. To do so, the technology itself will be opened up to developers from early 2017 to create functionalities beyond the commuter market.

Google said it is also continuing to look at opportunities to work with new partners. Beyond the initial launch with Levi’s, Poupyrev’s team is exploring athletics, formal workwear and enterprise garments, as well as the luxury market.

Is wearable tech a fad?

According to a 2014 study by Forbes, 71 percent of 16- to 24-year-olds want wearable tech. However, a study carried out in the UK in early 2015 among 1000 people reported that almost half (56 percent) said that wearable tech was "just a fad".

Image: atap.google.com/jacquard.