Google and Levi’s Smart Jeans Could Be a Source of Dumb Data

Google and Levi’s are taking wearables to the next level with smart jeans as part of a partnership through the search giant’s Project Jacquard, leaving some industry insiders wondering how the brands will secure data on connected clothing.

Combining thin, metallic alloys with everyday materials like cotton, polyester and silk, Jacquard yarn is strong enough to be woven on any industrial loom. Indistinguishable from traditional yarns, Jacquard makes it possible to weave conductive yarns and sensor grids through fabric, creating patches of sensitivity that respond to touch and gesture. The smart components are designed to blend in – they’re no larger than a jacket button – and transmit the touch and gesture data wirelessly, connecting the items to mobile devices, apps or online services.

“We think about Jacquard as a raw material that will make computation a part of the language which apparel designers and textile designer and fashion designers speak,” said Ivan Poupyrev, technical program lead at Google, during the I/O conference in San Francisco last week. “We want digital to be just the same thing as quality of yarn or colors used.”

Smart clothing can allow users do things like activate a smartphone, control music or turn on lights. Levi’s is Google’s first partner for Project Jacquard. The denim brand hasn’t responded to ClickZ‘s request for comment and it’s unclear what will be done with the trackpad on the pants.

But Glen Gilmore, a digital marketing strategist and one of Forbes‘ Top 20 Social Media Power Influencers, thinks that no matter what Levi’s has in mind, Project Jacquard will lead to a rush on the production of connected clothing.

“The Google-Levi’s collaboration will drive the industry to move fast into the development and use of conductive textiles,” Gilmore says, adding that research firm Gartner predicted there will be 4.9 billion connected things by the end of this year. “This partnership could give new meaning to receiving a company uniform, embedding technology in textiles that could literally open doors and allow wearers to give commands by gesturing with an arm.”

He adds that as more brands make smart clothes, they also need to be careful to weave security into their data-sharing abilities.

During the U.S. Open last summer, Ralph Lauren unveiled the Polo Tech, a compression shirt outfitted with sensors. The biometric shirt operates like a Fitbit, providing information on heart rates and stress levels. Depending on the wearer’s health, this data is potentially very sensitive.

“It’s a topic that has been long-ignored in an industry that has had a practice of embedding RFID in textiles, allowing companies to track the travels of their products and potentially, the wearers of their products,” Gilmore says. “Like any connected device, smart clothes can become dumb and dangerous if we don’t weigh carefully the data exchange that is taking place and how we are providing for consumer privacy. This is going to be the continuing challenge of our age.”

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