Denim disruption

Google and Levi’s are teaming up to make computerized pants

Flickr/Alex-501

There have been words — so, so many words! — written about all of the Amazing Mind-Blowing Futuristic Stuff being announced by Google at its annual I/O developer conference. And, frankly, lots of it feels fairly small-ball — the kind of technological catch-up and incremental innovation that gets tech bloggers excited, but doesn’t really mean much to normal people.

But today, we got some true futurism: computerized pants.

This morning, Google announced that it is teaming up with Levi’s to make jeans with conductive fabric — which could eventually allow wearers to use their legs as touchscreens — swiping their thigh, say, to accept a phone call.

The computerized pants project, which came out of Google’s secretive ATAP lab, headed by a former DARPA research scientist, is code-named “Project Jacquard,” after Joseph Marie Jacquard, the inventor of the power loom. Wired describes it as an attempt to “bring conductive yarns to every garment and fabric on earth, and then to integrate touch sensors, haptic feedback, and more right into your jeans, car seats, curtains, everything.” And here’s how it’ll work:

Working with one of Japan’s many boutique textile manufacturers, Poupyrev and the Jacquard team designed yarns based on a metallic alloy whose precise makeup he won’t share … They discovered that by tightly weaving the conductive thread into other fabrics, they were having a hard time connecting the electronics necessary to power and capture data from the yarn. So after a few revisions, they created a two-layer system that allows you to embed electronics in the middle, like the meat in a sandwich. That makes it easy to connect electronics to the connective threads themselves, without getting in the way of what the designers want to do.

As Apple is doing with its Watch, Google and Levi’s are marketing computerized pants as a way to stay connected to your digital life without having to pull out your phone. “If there’s a chance to enable the clothes that we already love to help us facilitiate access to the best and most necessary of this digital world while maintaining eye contact with the person we’re eating dinner with, this is a real value,” Paul Dillinger of Levi Strauss said at the I/O conference, according to the Verge. (How your fellow diners will react to you furiously swiping at your thighs under the table, we’re not sure.)

It’s not clear when you’ll be able to pick up a pair of touchscreen jeans. Project Jacquard is still very much in the prototype stage, and according to Wired, Google and Levi’s are “still trying to figure out the right application for the tech.” But make no mistake: the digital revolution is coming for your pants.