Google developing 'smart' hoodie cord that lets you control your phone

Google is developing a ‘smart’ hoodie drawstring that lets you control the music on your phone by twisting and tapping the cord

  • The wearable cord is made up of intertwining conductive and insulating fibres
  • Conductive fibres let it to perform complex capacitive sensing when handled
  • This allows it to distinguish gestures including flicking, sliding and grabbing
  • Wearers could use these gestures to control music, adjust volume and more
  • Other applications could involve interactive headphone or speaker cables  

Google researchers are developing a ‘smart’ hoodie drawstring that lets you control the music on your phone by twisting and tapping the cord.

The wearable fibre — which features as so-called ‘helical sensing matrix’ — can also pick up on other gestures, including flicking, sliding, pinching and grabbing.

The cord can also be made to light up in response to human interacting by interlacing the sensing fibres with optical cables that can change colour.

Other applications might include using the sensing fibre as an interactive headphone cable, or alternatively a controlling cord for a smart speaker.

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Google researchers are developing a ‘smart’ hoodie drawstring that lets you control the music on your phone by twisting and tapping the cord, pictured


THE CORD SUPPORTS MANY INTERACTIONS 

Users of Google’s cord or drawstring could control their devices with the following interactions:

  • Flicking
  • Grabbing 
  • Patting 
  • Pinching
  • Sliding finders up or down the cord 
  • Swiping
  • Twisting
  • Tapping 

‘Textiles have the potential to help technology blend into our everyday environments and objects by improving aesthetics, comfort and ergonomics,’ said paper author and Google engineer Alex Olwal in a blog post.

‘Consumer devices have started to leverage these opportunities through fabric-covered smart speakers and braided headphone cords.’ 

‘Advances in materials and flexible electronics have enabled the incorporation of sensing and display into soft form factors, such as jackets, dresses, and blankets.’

To build the basic design of their interactive cord, the researchers interwove multiple insulated electrically conductive yarns together with supporting fibres.

Yarn running in opposite directions then serve as transmit and receive electrodes, respectively, allowing the cord to perform complex capacitive sensing as the users touches, twists and manipulates the soft sensor device.

‘By exploiting techniques from textile braiding, we integrate both gesture sensing and visual feedback along the surface through a repeating matrix topology,’ Dr Olwal added in the blog post.

‘The capacitive coupling at their intersections is modulated by the user’s fingers, and these interactions can be sensed anywhere on the cord since the braided pattern repeats along the length.’ 

The wearable fibre — which features as so-called ‘helical sensing matrix’ — can also pick up on other gestures, including flicking, sliding, pinching and grabbing

The researchers conducted a series of tests of their prototype cord, which allowed them to distinguish the various gestures users might use to control devices with it. 

‘Our quantitative analysis suggests that our e-textile’s twisting is faster than existing headphone button controls and comparable in speed to a touch surface,’ Dr Olwal explained.

‘Qualitative feedback also indicated a preference for e-textile interaction over headphone controls.’

Dr Olwal added that, as the cord can be controlled anywhere along its length, using it to change volume on a smartphone, for example, is faster than having to find where the volume buttons  are on the cord of a normal pair of headphones. 

The cord, pictured in this illustration, can also be made to light up in response to human interacting by interlacing the sensing fibres with optical cables that can change colour

The wearable fibre — which features as so-called ‘helical sensing matrix’ — can also pick up on other gestures, including flicking, sliding, pinching and grabbing

This is far from Google’s first foray into the world of wearable technology, however.

In 2018, the tech firm collaborated with clothing company Levi Strauss & Co. to create a ‘smart jacket’ which allowed wearers to control a set of connected headphone by tapping and brushing the garment’s sleeves. 

The item also had a feature that saw it vibrate if the wearer moved too far away from their linked mobile phone.

The full findings of the current study were published in the Proceedings of the 2020 ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 



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