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Google developing smart fabrics

Careful if you spill mustard on that shirt — wiping it off could accidentally turn up the music, turn off the lights or call your mother.

Google said it’s developing a new “smart fabric” technology that will make shirts, pants and other articles of clothing responsive to swipes and taps the same way touchscreens are.

That, in turn, could allow high-tech togs to communicate with laptops, smartphones and smart appliances — or even replace them altogether, industry watchers said.US-IT-TEXTILE-COMPUTERS-GOOGLE-LEVISTRAUSS

The technology, slated for release to developers later this year, pushes the envelope in the fast-growing wearables category, whose recent entrants have included the Apple Watch.

Google’s “Project Jacquard,” unveiled this week at its I/O developers conference in San Francisco, demonstrated a jacket that commanded a phone to make a call. Fabric swatches not only responded to finger swipes but also sensed how hard they were being pressed.

Engineers pulled this off by creating a yarn that’s capable of conducting electricity, as well as being interwoven with a variety of fabrics.

“The structure of textiles is the same as the structure of touchscreens,” explained Google exec Ivan Poupyrev.

Electronic components that support the fabric have already been shrunk down to the size of a button and will eventually be undetectable, execs said.

Google isn’t the first company to push smart fabrics. OmSignal and Heapsylon are two startups that have been marketing athletic wear that can monitor a user’s vital signs during a workout.

Google’s approach, however, appears to be targeting everyday uses that could be especially attractive to the lazy — those who’d rather not have to fish the phones out of their pockets to answer them, for example.

Some experts said the generous surface area of smart fabrics would be a welcome contrast to the tiny screen of the Apple Watch, which has vexed some reviewers.

Signaling its mainstream intentions, Google said Friday it has created a partnership with Levi Strauss.

“In our hyper-digital world, people constantly struggle to be physically present in their environment while maintaining a digital connection,” said Paul Dillinger, head of global product innovation at Levi.

When it comes to fashion, Google might need all the help it can get it. The 2012 launch of Google Glass, a pair of smart eyeglasses, flopped with fashionistas.

On Friday, Google exec Astro Teller admitted the Google Glass rollout had been botched and said a new version “is making really good progress.”