Google introduces “smart-braid” technology that lets you control headphones with a flick of the cord, what does this mean for the future?

Since Dan Saffer first coined the term in 2014, microinteractions have been getting a lot of attention in the design world. In fact, odds are that you began your day with one and didn’t even notice. The interaction happened when you reached over to turn off the morning alarm on your phone. These rarely obvious, but hugely important, interactions are so small that we rarely think about them; which is the point. They exist to make tech feel human and less flat which can be the difference between a product’s success or failure.

As much as we enjoy our microinteractions on mobile, they have not carried over as well to wearables. Wearables may allow for a more personal connection between the tech and the user, but their size makes it challenging for designers to implements these little micro-delights. It’s sad that the ability to fuse microinteractions with wearables has been so limited. When Google heard the designers’ plea they responded just as you think Google would. They said, “hold my beer…”

Meet the ‘Smart-Braid’

The smart cord responds to taps, twists, flicks, slides, grabs, and pats. (Image: Google)

Google has announced that they’re working on a ‘smart-braid’ which responds to touch such as taps, twists, flicks, slides, grabs, and pats. The company is currently testing the technology on a headphone cord which they have wrapped in the smart, braided fabric. They explain that this new technology uses a “helical sensing matrix” (or HSM) to register commands. Basically, when the user makes a gesture a signal is sent through the fabric’s embedded technology and it’s receivers make the mobile device respond. The fiber also contains small strands that illuminate the chords giving the user feedback that it’s in use.

A still of the interactive E-textile being lit by touch sensors. (Image:Google)

This isn’t Google’s first rodeo with e-textiles. They have experimented with shoes, denim jackets, and a smart-backpacks in the past. What is the difference here that makes this tech so special? You guessed it, it’s all in the microinteractions! They’ve found a way to integrate gesture sensing with visual feedback.

“We hope to advance textile user interfaces and inspire the use of microinteractions for future wearable interfaces and smart fabrics”, Google writes.

Being able to make smart-clothing, -shoes, -handbags, and more will open up a whole new market as tech meets fashion. A hooded sweatshirt with smart-drawstrings that connect to your phone and control your music, for example. In a world that is currently obsessed with wearables, the implications for this innovative technology are huge.

“ We hope that our e-textile will inspire others to augment physical objects with scalable techniques, while preserving industrial design and aesthetics.”

We do too, google. We do too.

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