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Wearables and Market Research

Google and long-time clothing producer Levi Strauss Co. have just partnered up to produce a whole new kind of fabric – a “smart cloth.” Called Project Jacquard, after the inventor of the loom, this new interactive fabric can be embedded into any fabric by way of an industrial loom. This means the new fabric is easy to use and can be wide-spread. These interactive threads currently function like a touchscreen on a phone. They can detect someone swiping or moving their fingers and can connect with other technology, like a smartphone. This means we might soon have another way to answer our phones or snooze our alarms.

Google and Levi are not the first brands to come out with “smart” fabric. Clothing brand Athos has embedded wearable sensors for heartrate, breathing rate, electrical activity generated by muscles (EMG), and more into workout clothes. The idea is that all of this information can be displayed for the user so they can better maximize their workout.

Recently, Researchers at University of California in San Diego were granted $2.6 million to develop smart clothes that help regulate body temperature. By using polymers that expand and shrink, their idea is to make a lightweight, washable, easy to use shirt that can thicken if the room gets colder or thin out if the room gets warmer. This will cut down on electricity and heating and cooling costs. The technology is still in the very early stages, but if it is developed as they hope, it could considerably help with natural disasters like the heat wave recently seen in India.

While Google is certainly not the first company to bring technology into fabrics, they are entering the market with new boundaries to push. As shown, other “smart clothes” use sensors or polymers in their fabrics. Google is working with threads that have microchips in them. These fabrics will be able to be programmed to do almost anything. While Google is designing the software and will be available for support, other designers will be in charge of the actual products. Levi’s, for one, will get their chance to use this new software in an exciting way. Perhaps they will embed a game onto the sleeve of a shirt, or maybe embed a TV remote to the arm of a sofa. Google will remain an interested partner, but the designing is left to other companies who may have a better sense of what the market is ready for and what customers want. We will see if this new wearable tech leads to a touch screen integrated into a shirt, new remotes that are embedded into a sofa, or even quicker doctor visits due to shirts that measure all vital signs.

In terms of the market research industry, this new technology could work hand-in-hand with biometrics to better measure responses to a myriad of things. Responses to commercials, brand messages, and advertisement campaigns could be tested more efficiently with this new technology. Wearable technology will be able to measure heart rate, breathing rate, and potentially other factors that are important physiological changes that come along with someone either liking or disliking a message. If we could use this wearable technology in conjunction with biometric measures like facial expression analysis, we will be able to get a better feeling for how customers actually react to a commercial, product, or branding message. Time will tell, but I think the combination of “smart clothes” with biometrics will soon become commonplace for market researchers.