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Digital denim: Google and Levi Strauss partner for wearable tech

Google and Levi Strauss announced their first wearable tech product: a denim commuter jacket for urban cyclists. 

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    Levi's® and Google collaborate to create the newest in wearable technology - the Levi's® Commuter™ x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket. A denim jacket for urban cyclists.
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This week, Google and Levi Strauss announced their partnership on the groundbreaking Jacquard Project, a wearable technology initiative that will marry the fashion and electronics worlds later this year.

This latest development in wearable technology could help make city streets safer for urban cyclists (and drivers), allowing wearers to change songs, answer calls, or use smartphone GPS functions with ease.

The first Jacquard Project product, a denim jacket called Levi’s Commuter x Jacquard by Google Trucker Jacket, will be available for beta testing by the year’s end. The jacket is designed to be a fully functional piece of clothing, as well as a tech accessory.

“Wearables to date have just been able to do one thing,” Google’s Advanced Technology and Products (ATAP) tech program lead Ivan Poupyrev told Forbes, “ in our case the garment does what you want it to do.”

The jacket, the result of cooperation between Google’s ATAP group and Levi Strauss, was announced Friday at Google’s I/O developer conference. Google first floated the initial idea for the jacket a year ago.

Although it is clearly a piece of highly sophisticated technology, the jacket will be indistinguishable from a normal denim jacket, and can even be sent through the washing machine.

The only visible bit of technology is a small clip located on the left sleeve cuff, though the intelligent material that the jacket is made from means that users merely have to touch its fabric to interact with their smartphones.

When a smartphone is linked into the jacket’s system via the digital clip, wearers need only tap or swipe along the fabric of their cuffs to use the system. According to Forbes, Google and Levi’s set out to create this jacket with utility in mind, settling early in the design process on creating a product for urban bikers.

“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,” Paul Dillinger, VP of global product innovation at Levi’s told Forbes, “then the ideation process around the function became quite natural and fluid.”

Using LEDs and haptics, the smart material of the jacket will allow users to sync with aps like Spotify and Strava, as well as control personal music libraries and GPS systems.

And this denim commuter jacket is just the tip of the iceberg for Project Jacquard.

The project is an existing fashion initiative that uses special Jacquard yarn (which combines a conductive metal alloy with traditional yarn) and “makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms.” 

The project plans to expand to a whole range of wearable technology products, and Google is exploring partnership options with other clothing manufacturers and brands.

Project Jacquard is by no means alone. As the Christian Science Monitor reported in 2013, several companies are moving into wearable tech.  

For example, the $999 MIDI controller jacket DK1 is billed as the "first jacket that allows you to create music through body movements and body sensors."

It includes: an accelerometer, a gyroscope, with two push buttons and one piezoelectric. Map your jacket as you like with more than 7 cc and 8 notes. Use your arms to raise the volume and tempo of your music, tap your chest to make sound, configure it however you like. It’s a new type of instrument

According to Google and Levi Strauss officials, however, the difference between what many other companies are doing and Project Jacquard is functionality and appearance. Though other companies may be able to achieve similar technological integration, Project Jacquard claims it has seamlessly developed wearable tech that isn’t obviously tech.

Google has not yet announced potential price ranges for the Project Jacquard line. The jacket is expected to hit shelves in spring 2017.

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