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Are Haptic Garments the Wearables We Need? Google Thinks So.

Wearable tech has been on a rollercoaster ride since the first commercial devices and garments went mainstream years ago. But while “wearable” might today be synonymous with something like an Apple Watch, plenty of players are hoping that there’s an appetite for technology embedded into garments that can enhance our daily lives.

Google and Levi’s Project Jacquard is held up as perhaps the most visible wearable tech success story. The commuter jacket for cyclists jointly produced by the companies is utilitarian at its core; not only does it give the wearer a practical garment—everyday outerwear—but it also enhances the usability of the wearer’s mobile device. It’s a solid example of form meeting function in a product that integrates technology in a smart, sensible way.

With its successful application for a patent concerning haptic feedback systems embedded into apparel, Google seems to be signaling that the future for wearables is bigger than a one-off commuter jacket. The patent calls for myriad points of haptic vibration through an interactive garment, ensuring that the wearer doesn’t miss an important text message notification or email from the boss, for example. A more comprehensive and failsafe haptic feedback network could improve the garment’s utility, increasing the likelihood of uptake by users.

Much of the interest in tech-infused clothing revolves around data capture—tracking heart rates, blood pressure and other critical data that contains valuable clues about health and wellness. Google’s haptic system, on the other hand, focuses on making what we already have in ubiquity—smartphones—even more useful in scenarios when their use would otherwise be limited or risky.

Manufacturing smart apparel continues to be a challenge, though smarter tech systems could help ease production obstacles.

Smart apparel poses a $4 billion market opportunity by 2024, according to 2017 research from Global Market Insights. Statista expects roughly 27 million smart clothing units will ship worldwide by 2022.