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 Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags consumer electronicsGoogle

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Fred O'Connor

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?