Google is looking at new ways to incorporate connected functionality into smart clothing using haptic feedback while keeping power requirements to a bare minimum, based on a recent patent spotted by Android Headlines. Published by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) the patented design accomplishes that with just one or two vibration motors embedded in an item of clothing along with multi-touch points. However, the patent notes that it is challenging to alert users to a notification or alert with smart clothing and vibration motors are not presently a viable option. The problem arises from the fact that a vibration motor requires power and isn't always positioned so that it can be felt by the user. Placed in the cuff of a jacket, the company says, the motor might not be felt if it's hanging away from the wearer. Rather than increasing the power of the vibration or adding more motors and battery requirements, the company has designed a "mechanical transmission structure" that could transfer vibration from a single motor to multiple points.
Background: Google's history with smart clothing has been rocky in the leadup to this latest patent. For instance, the previously released Levi's Jacquard Trucker Jacket was created by the company in conjunction with Levis Strauss. That product was created using the search giant's Jacquard smart material, adding some touch-based features to the apparel. It hit the market back in September of 2017 but none of its promise or built-in functionality really seemed to entice buyers and it sold very slowly from the very start. A lot of blame for its dismal performance could easily be placed on the fact that the jacket was both expensive and easy to ruin simply by washing it too many times. In total, the jacket was reportedly only able to be washed 10 times. But the jacket also didn't quite offer the kind of futuristic functionality many users likely expected in exchange for its $350 price tag.
Earlier this year, an update was delivered to the underlying software improved the jacket further by adding the ability for users to log and bookmark locations they'd visited. What's more, that allowed the details of an incoming Uber or Lyft vehicle to be read aloud via connected headphones once the vehicle was within a certain range. However, the update really came in too late to ultimately bolster sales for its Levis Strauss-made product. In the meantime, the wearables category of smart devices has been relegated to smart bands, watches, rings, and glasses, with no indication that any one company is considering a new project in the clothing wearables market.
Impact: There's no guarantee Google will ever make use of this new patent, let alone release any new smart clothing at all. Furthermore, there's no indication as to whether the company might have other improvements or new features in the works in terms of functionality or durability that would make a piece of smart clothing more appealing or marketable than the previous attempt. With that said, this new patent does seem to show that the company is putting serious thought into the prospect. The ability to receive notifications without putting on headphones is something that the sales figures associated with the above-mentioned jacket could have benefited from.