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Google Expands Appeal of Wearable Technology

With two new announcements, Google is looking to expand the appeal of the wearable tech sector.

With two new announcements, Google is looking to expand the appeal of the wearable tech sector.

Google Glass was the company’s first foray into wearable technology, but Google is planning a variety of new products and technological enhancements.

Google made two major wearable technology announcements at its annual I/O conference in May, but it wasn’t a new watch, or activity tracker, or the rumored next version of Google Glass. It wasn’t a device at all. Rather, it was a pair of deep research projects that have the potential to radically change our perceptions of “wearable technology.”

The first, dubbed Project Jacquard, has created conductive thread that can be seamlessly woven into textiles – apparel, furniture and more. “For textile designers or fashion designers or furniture designers, it is interesting because it’s something you are very familiar with. It’s just textile,” says Shiho Fukuhara, textile development and partnership lead for Project Jacquard, in a video released by Google. Fukuhara says it behaves and weaves just like normal yarn, which can either be invisibly integrated into textiles or noticeably raised for users to interact with.

At Google’s I/O conference, the company had a demo of the technology, which used fabric as a touchscreen input. Attendees could move their fingers over a threaded grid, where a display showed how software was reading their movements in real time – tapping, swipes, pressure and much more.

The technology has robust possibilities, especially for apparel. The most obvious example is that clothing can interact with smartphones as well as countless other smart devices. Google announced it is partnering with Levi’s on the project.

The second announcement, called Project Soli, introduces sensors that, through radar, detect hand movements which can control smartphones and other devices. “Radar has been used for many things – to track cars, satellites and planes,” says Ivan Poupyrev, technical program lead for Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects division, which oversees both projects. “We’re using it to track micro motions, twitches of human hands, and use that to interact with wearables and other computing devices.”

A video released by Google demonstrates how hand movements could potentially interact with devices. Tapping the index finger to the thumb can simulate pressing a button, or rubbing the two fingers together could increase or decrease a slider. At an I/O conference presentation, Poupyrev demonstrated the technology in action by changing the time setting on his watch simply by rubbing his index finger and thumb together.

It’s these kinds of advances, Google believes, that will make wearable tech products more appealing to the masses – as the technological advances make the items easier to use and integrate into consumers’ everyday lives, Google forecasts that acceptance of the products will become more widespread.