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Google and Levi’s Partner to Turn Textiles Into Touchscreens

Connected clothing is the latest thing in wearable technology and a new partnership between tech goliath Google and iconic American brand Levi’s means jeans will soon be sending text messages.

Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group unveiled Project Jacquard at Google I/O 2015 Friday and named Levi’s its first official partner.

In short, Project Jacquard makes it possible for touch and gesture interactivity to be woven into any textile using standard industrial looms, which means clothing, or furniture, can be tapped and swiped like touchscreen surfaces to activate functions like silencing cell phones or sending text messages.

And new conductive yarns Google created with its industrial partners are making the whole thing possible. The Jacquard yarn structures combine thin, metallic alloys with natural or synthetic yarns like cotton, polyester and silk, which makes the yarn strong enough to be woven on traditional industrial looms—and you can’t tell these yarns apart from standard yarns already used in today’s fabrics, according to Google.

With the conductive yarns, touch sensitive areas can be woven anywhere on the textile, or sensor grids can be woven throughout the textile to make bigger interactive surfaces. And the electronics can be as small, or smaller, than the button on a jacket.

Touch and gesture data captured by the tiny technology gets wirelessly transmitted to smartphones or other devices and can connect the user to online services, apps and other phone features. Embedded outputs then give the user feedback, making for a seamless digital connection.

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“Jacquard is a blank canvas for the fashion industry. Designers can use it as they would any fabric, adding new layers of functionality to their designs, without having to learn about electronics,” Google noted on the Project Jacquard website. “Developers will be able to connect existing apps and services to Jacquard-enabled clothes and create new features specifically for the platform.”

Google said the Jacquard components are cost-efficient for producing at scale and the yarns and fabrics can be made with standard equipment already in place at mills. The tech company said it is also developing custom connectors, electronic components, communication protocols, simple applications and cloud services for the project.

“In our hyper-digital world, people constantly struggle to be physically present in their environment while maintaining a digital connection,” said Levi’s head of global product innovation, Paul Dillinger, at Google I/O Friday morning, according to the company blog. “The work that Google and Levi’s are embarking upon with Project Jacquard delivers an entirely new value to consumers with apparel that is emotional, aspirational and functional.”