Digitized Fabrics Could Turn Your Wardrobe Into Wearable Touchscreens

While smartphones that bend and flex under pressure are just now coming onto the market, Google and a handful of scrappy startups are imagining a future where sensitive, connected surfaces will make the jump from the phones in our pockets to the shirts on our backs. Literally.

Tech Startups like Athos have been working towards this goal for years, creating Bluetooth-enabled fabrics that operate through a series of integrated Bluetooth sensors.

But Project Jacquard, a new initiative from Google, is taking the technology to the next level with an experimental conductive fabric that has “technology woven in.”

Jacquard allows potential smart clothing startups to weave conductive yarns made from metallic alloys blended with traditional mediums like polyester and silk into regular fabrics, essentially turning the finished yards of fabric into giant woven touchscreens. Motion capture and touch sensitivity paired with an arsenal of integrated electronics allow app developers to “hack” the resulting garments on an intimate level.

While current consumer tech “wearables” like the Microsoft Band enable users to track their physical stats through their wrist, Project Jacquard has the potential to bring that functionality to the entire garment. App developers are already keen to bring enhanced sensitivity to self-tracking software, but it’s likely that the full implications for this technology have yet to be realized.

Reactions to other close-to-home tech innovations like Google Glass have frequently drawn comparisons to “big brother” predictions from George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. George Orwell — the prophet of “smart” technologies that are a little too smart — could never have imagined a world where everything from the glasses on our faces to the shirts on our backs monitor our actions in real time.

As Google turns connected touchscreens into something we can wear around our bodies, we find ourselves in a world where “big brother” isn’t just watching us from the shadows, but interacting with us through environment itself. Are we ready?

— Words by Vagazine editors