Google bets that smart fabrics, gesture interfaces will replace fiddling on a tiny wearable touchscreen

As mobile device screens shrink, Google is developing new user interfaces that don't rely on touchscreens

At Google I/O 2015, attendees could play around with the company's mysterious fabric for controlling connected devices like smartphones, light bulbs and 3D modeling software.
At Google I/O 2015, attendees could play around with the company's mysterious fabric for controlling connected devices like smartphones, light bulbs and 3D modeling software.

Instead of trying to scroll through your contacts list on a tiny smartwatch, Google thinks you should be able to just touch your sleeve to initiate a phone call.

That's just one example of what developers might be able to do with Project Jacquard, unveiled at the I/O developer conference on Friday. The project centers on fabric that incorporates tactile sensors with the result that clothing can offer some touchscreen functionality.

Project Jacquard is one way that Google is attempting to develop new user interfaces for mobile devices that rely less on touchscreens and more on gestures. As the screen sizes on mobile devices shrink, people are reaching the limit to what they're able to accomplish, especially with wearables, said Regina Dugan, a Google senior executive who works in the company's Advanced Technology and Projects group.

During a demonstration of a suit jacket made with the smart fabric, a person was able to place a call on his smartphone by touching the garment's sleeve. The jacket needed additional electronics to work and it's unclear how this technology would respond to getting wet, for example when being cleaned.

While tactile fabric isn't new, Google wants to make the technology more than a novelty and incorporate it into everyday fashion, said Ivan Poupyrev, technical program lead at Google. To that end, the company is working with Levi's to create clothes made with fabric from Project Jacquard, but gave no details on when these garments would go on sale or how much they would cost.

Google, though, realizes that it must work with the fashion and textile industry if it wants to see its smart fabric end up in clothing, Poupyrev said. The fabric can withstand manufacturing processes, and is available in a range of colors, he said. Google is building the entire system for smart fabrics, from the yarns to the apps, technologies and services that would work with them.

I/O attendees were able to try out the smart fabric in a demonstration area. Sliding your fingers across or up and down the fabric controlled nearby electronics. In one demonstration, people used the fabric to control a 3D image shown on a display. In other displays, a swatch of fabric was used to control lighting and change the song playing on a smartphone.

Google also showed a gesture radar, called Project Soli, that can capture and interpret a person's hand movements. Instead of scrolling through a contact list on a smartwatch screen, for example, a person could perform that task by making the same movement over a wearable that's equipped with the sensor. To change the volume on a device, one could make a gesture that resembles turning a dial.

The aim is to replace all of the physical commands needed to control a wearable with hand gestures, said Poupyrev. Radar can capture subtle 3D movements and work either during the day or at night, among other sensor criteria, he said. For Project Soli, Google and its partners shrunk the radar functionality down to a chip that can fit inside a wearable.

The gesture radar can distinguish distance as well as gestures. During a demonstration, Poupyrev changed the time on a digital watch face by holding his hand at different heights. Holding his hands close to the chip and gesturing like he was turning a dial changed the hours while holding his hand higher up changed the minutes.

Google is building an API (application programming interface) for the gesture radar and will release it later this year.

Join the CMO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Supporting Association

Blog Posts

Disruption Down Under – What’s Amazon’s real competitive advantage?

Savvy shoppers wait in anticipation, while Australian retailers are gearing up for the onslaught. Amazon’s arrival is imminent.

Change across the board: Why boards need to digitally evolve

Traditionally the non-executive board of a company acts in an advisory capacity - attending monthly board meetings to offer overarching advice and guidance typically focusing on:

Jodie Sangster

CEO, ADMA

The most desirable customers you’ve overlooked

“What will really move the needle?” This is a question that keeps leaders awake at night. And at the intersection of some of their top priorities – finding pockets of growth, redefining the customer experience, and making an emotional impact – lies a latent market: Their diverse customers.

Really inspiring !

Goldenboy Media

Jaywing sets sights on Australian growth with digital and data-driven agency model

Read more

Being aware of regulations or guidlines is just the start. As our CEO Emma Lo Russo stated exactly two weeks ago at an event we supported...

Alan Smith

​Are the Wild West days of influencer collaboration over?

Read more

Rebranding is always nice solution to get better organisation. Businessman may apply certain special services (for example, https://www.l...

David Hill

CMO interview: Spearheading the global rebranding of OFX

Read more

Thank you so much for sharing this article.Top Digital Marketing company in Bangalore

Way To DM

Predictions: 17 digital marketing trends for 2017

Read more

Thanks for the great article Jodie, agree many boards and senior execs are operating in outdated modes, just as we need some reverse soci...

sharyn

Change across the board: Why boards need to digitally evolve - Data-driven marketing - CMO Australia

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in