This Levi’s jacket with a smart sleeve is finally going on sale for $350

More than a year after it was announced and two years after we first saw a demonstration of touch-sensitive fabric, the Levi’s jacket with a smart sleeve is finally going on sale. I’ve been wearing this Levi’s Commuter Trucker jacket for a few days now and it’s very nice. It fits well and looks great. And by swiping or tapping the fabric on the left cuff, I have been able to control my smartphone.

Whether those things add up to a $350 value — the price of this jacket — is entirely a different question. It’s targeted at people who commute by bike, and I think the only people beyond that target market are going to be a few techies and people who just really like jean jackets. It works with both Android and iPhone, by the way.

A standard Levi’s trucker jacket costs $148, though Levi’s has been quick to point out that designer denim jackets can run well over $400. I’m no fashion critic, but I can tell you I’m impressed with the fit and look of this one.

When you talk to both Levi’s and Google, they’re very eager to tell a design story about this jacket, not just a technology story. It comes out of a partnership between the clothing company and a small division of Google dedicated to experimentation. We’ve seen lots of weird projects inside Google’s ATAP, but most of them (like the ill-fated Project Ara) have ended up getting scuttled.

This one, Project Jacquard, finally made it. “Jacquard” is named after a loom, and the core idea is both simple and complicated: make fabric touch-sensitive, like the screen on your phone. It’s achieved through yet more simple ideas which turn out to be devilishly complicated to execute.

Basically, Google and Levi’s had to figure out how to integrate capacitive threads with a copper core into the actual manufacturing process for a denim jacket, then use a tiny little Bluetooth dongle that attaches to a button to communicate to your phone. It took a lot of design work to make that happen, because the jacket needed to feel like a jacket. The result is a thing you can actually put in the washing machine and dryer without ruining the circuitry inside.

“We wanted to make a garment, not a gadget,” says Ivan Poupyrev, the person in charge of Google’s side of the project. And working with Levi’s to create the manufacturing process for the jacket, I think he’s come a long way toward achieving that goal.

Okay, but how does it work? As I said, you attach a small little “tag” to the left cuff of the jacket. You then pair it to an app on your phone and go through a little tutorial that sets up the three different gestures you can configure. You can brush in, brush out, and double tap. There’s a forth gesture, just holding your hand on the fabric, which is hard-coded to just shutting your phone up.

The idea is that when you’re on a bike, you can just reach over and brush your sleeve to interact with your phone and get audio cues. It’s certainly a lot safer than, you know, messing with your actual touchscreen while you ride. But is it any more convenient than, say, smart controls on a Bluetooth headset? Probably not, but it is a neat thing. Again, Levi’s and Google are trying to sell you on a nice jacket that does some extra stuff, not just on a gadget’s technical capabilities.

The Jacquard system can automatically tell when you’re wearing the jacket, and it sets up your phone to a kind of biking mode. It reads texts aloud either through the phone itself (which is meant to nestle is a special inside pocket on the left breast) or through your headphones. It can be configured to only allow calls and texts from important people.

To start, there aren’t a ton of things you can do with the cuff. The idea is that there are just a handful of actions you need to be doing when you’re on a bike. Controlling your music is the best part, but there are a handful of other features. My favorite is that you can set your home or work address. I set it to a double-tap, and when I did that, the phone automatically grabbed my location, queried Google Maps, and then spoke the next direction I needed to get home.

The most fun you can have with the tech is a screen where you can see the real-time interaction with the touch-sensitive treads. It looks a little like a guitar fret, and you can run your fingers along it and see it working, including how hard you’re pushing down. It’s a silly thing, you’re kind of just pushing buttons and seeing something light up, but the buttons are threads, which is neat.

These are just some impressions. My colleague Nick Statt actually bikes to work on a daily basis, so he’s better qualified to give this thing a full review — and he will. But if you’re already convinced, the jacket is going on sale in a few boutique stores on the 27th and will be available in some Levi’s stores and on levi.com on October 2nd.

And about that delay: Google and Levi’s had originally promised this jacket would be available much sooner. When I asked about it, there were two answers. The first is that it took some doing to make all the manufacturing, the app, and the rest of the technology more durable and reliable. But the second, more important, answer is that selling jackets isn’t the same as selling gadgets. Jackets go into retail channels in the fall, when people buy jackets.

Video by Tyler Pina

Comments

Mega cringe.

The last thing I want to do when I bike is to be listening to music. You should be alert and well aware of your surroundings when biking and listening to music while doing so is dangerous. I’m also not sure why this whole fabric touch sensitive thing needs to be used on a jacket when one can probably use the same tech on an armband or wristband. The team behind the jacket wanted to make a garment and not a gadget, but for the use of the technology it seems that it would be better suited as a gadget. How about create a gadget that can be attached to any clothing or material?

Do you remember when things were… dumb? I’m starting to miss these times where i didn’t have to charge my shoes just so they’ll tie themselves…

Yo they still make regular shit, you just have more options now and some of those are connected to devices.

Do I like this jacket? Not at all.

Do I think it’s fine to listen to music on a bike? Of course. The big question is where you’re cycling. Are you cycling on a bike path in the Netherlands or on a busy city road in New York City? In the former case I have read entire paper books whilst cycling, in the latter case I wouldn’t even listen to music. Be aware not all cultures are like yours And anyway, with non isolating headphones I might even put them in in NYC.

I have read entire paper books whilst cycling

This is one of the most dumbest things I’ve ever heard someone do while biking.

I saw someone playing an ukelele while cycling. Top that.

I saw someone juggling while mountain-unicycling

I’ve got something even dumber. It’s a man on a motorbike, not a regular cycle, but good for a laugh.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2-SvR9B3XM

But he’s right, it’s no big deal. You can sort of do whatever the fuck you like on a bicycle if you are kept safe from motor vehicles. You can wear a helmet, steer clear of headphones, mount an air horn to your handlebars and dress from head to toe in day-glo but that will make practically no difference to the level of danger that you face compared to infrastructure that makes sure you only meet other road users with the likely capacity to cause you serious harm when it is quite difficult for them to travel as speeds at which they could do so.

Germany is not nearly as advanced in this regard as the Netherlands, but there was a guy who managed to ride 60km riding a bicycle sat backwards playing the violin. I do not think he had an escort.

Where I live, it’s actually illegal for people riding a bike, motorcycle, or driving a vehicle such as a car to wear headphones.
Just because you’re on a bike path, doesn’t mean you might not want to hear the guy shouting "Look Out, runaway shopping cart", or "Runaway stroller", or "No Breaks!!!".

But then I should talk. When I drive my car I like to have the music cranked up, but from what I understand I can be charged with distracted driving if a cop is in a bad mood.

It makes sense in a vehicle, but even in my tiny old Italian car, I could definitely note that I could hear less around me than when cycling with headphones on. And that is the best-case scenario, many cars are specifically designed to reduce road noise. I also listen to podcasts and stuff as I would in the car, I find in both cases it helps me not to zone out, especially on routes with which I’m familiar. Don’t pick sealed or noise-cancelling models obviously.

For people who cycle long-distance headphones are really the only way to take calls without stopping, so I would say that law in your country makes cycling less of a viable choice for people. Cycling logistics can take a lot of vehicles of the road and make cities work more efficiently, but if workers can’t communicate while on the move, that could be a difficult industry to keep going.

FYI it’s against the law to ride in NYC with headphones in BOTH ears. You might get a ticket (yes I’ve seen this) – It’s also really stupid.

http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bicyclerules_english.pdf

This is so entirely debatable. Come to the Netherlands once in your life and I bet you’ll come to hate everyone here because on a regular day I see no less than half the cyclists around me wearing headphones, some going as far as wearing the Bose QC35 over both ears. Though there’s various degrees of how smart this is but please don’t preach to people about how you "should be alert". People here are nothing if not alert and aware of their surroundings. We have separate bike paths with their own dedicated traffic lights as well as entire streets that cater specifically to cyclists, people bike confidently next to large vehicles (i.e. buses) without their hands on their handlebars. I don’t really have much to say about your points regarding the jacket but I did really want to elaborate that telling people what they should and shouldn’t do while cycling is very naive considering the differences in cyclist culture worldwide. Just because it isn’t something you’d do doesn’t mean it’s not fine for others.

Haha relax, clearly you’re a hardcore cyclist who feels that their voice must be heard.

Listening to music, reading a book, eating, etc, while biking is more risky/dangerous than not doing so regardless of the landscape, period.

I’m hardly a hardcore cyclist. I have a daily 12-mile (20 km) round-trip through dunes which I don’t even take all that often by bike just on the grounds of how far it is. In my spare time I bike to the next city over and back but this is so far from a ‘hardcore’ cyclist. Of course it’s more dangerous, but it’s still ignorant of you to claim that listening to music is something you shouldn’t be doing. There are so many variables here. What time are you biking at, where are you biking, how crowded is it? Etc. I’ve never had an accident as a result of me being distracted by music or technology in general. My two biggest accidents (only one of which was even a somewhat serious injury) both happened as a result of me being distracted by other people. Not saying this is the case for everyone, but I’m just saying that you seem to be putting a lot of confidence in your opinion that listening to music is a dumb thing to do while cycling.

While I appreciate the innovation, this is such a bad implementation. The video Levis made for it was so silly too. Not only do you get hot riding a bike, wearing a denim jacket is extra unwielding & hot. Hell, today’s "feels like" for my ride home will be in the 90s in NYC. Better to put Project Jacquard into something you can wear everyday, regardless of weather, like a belt or something, but even then…. whyyyyyyyyyy?

- and this is coming from a tech enthusiast in the fashion industry who works in fabrics.

they weren’t thinking back when they began "what is the best way to do (this thing we ended up doing)" they were thinking "what can we do with this capacitive thread".

I’m not sure I could come up with much better, but if I were in charge of the project I’d just say "No… that’s not worth doing. Shut it down."

Urgh this seems stupid.

All these gestures tied exclusively to one wrist. Just like a smartwatch. But unlike a smartwatch which can be worn with pretty much anything, you NEED to wear this jacket.

The sleeve containing the woven-fibers or whatever has a pretty ugly seam for a jacket that costs +$300.

I think this will be about as popular as Wil.i.am(?)’s wearable tech. Which is to say not very popular at all.

Seems like quite an interesting innovation. I’m not convinced by this use case, but it seems like a good way to get it out there and in use to see what people make of it. I hope they’ve made it nice and open to allow people to experiment with it and come up with some other uses.

I like and wear Levi’s, but this is one ugly jacket. Screams "I’m so hip, I’m unhip."

wish it has some different colors

I bike to work and when it gets a little cooler this might be something I’m interested since I do ride and listen to earphones but in theory it could be used with a bluetooth speaker.

I can see how the concept has potential. I don’t think they’ve quite made it compelling yet…

Interesting, but for me it would be only be suitable bike wear about 2 months out of the year. Obviously, it wouldn’t be well suited for summer. It would probably be good for late September into October, and the corresponding month in the spring, but the jacket doesn’t look well suited to layering so I don’t think it would work for the colder months.

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