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New wave of smart tech on show at Taiwan's Computex
by Staff Writers
Taipei (AFP) May 31, 2015

Google working with Levi Strauss to make smart clothes
San Francisco (AFP) May 30, 2015 - Google announced Friday that it is working with iconic US jean maker Levi Strauss to make clothing from specially woven fabric with touch-screen control capabilities.

The Internet titan used its annual developers conference in San Francisco to reveal its so-called Project Jacquard and to spotlight Levi Strauss as its first partner.

Named after a Frenchman who invented a type of loom, Project Jacquard is in the hands of a small Google team called Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP), which is different from the Google (x) lab that developes big-vision innovations such as self-driving cars.

"We are enabling interactive textiles," Emre Karagozler of ATAP said as the smart fabric was shown off in an area set up to look like cloth coming out of a loom.

"We do it by weaving conductive threads into fabric."

The special threads can be woven into a wide array of fabrics, and be made to visually stand out or go unnoticed depending on designers' wishes.

Conductivity can be limited to desired parts of fabric or spread across entire cloth.

"It is stretchable; it is washable," Karagozler said as people controlled lights or computer screens with finger strokes on a blue cloth covering a table in the display area behind him.

"It is just like normal fabric."

Project Jacquard makes it possible to weave touch and gesture interactivity into any textile using standard, industrial looms, according to Google.

Anything involving fabric, from suits or dresses to furniture or carpet, could potentially have computer touch-pad style control capabilities woven.

Conductive yarn is connected to tiny circuits, no bigger than jacket buttons, with miniaturized electronics that can use algorithms to recognize touches or swipes, ATAP said.

The data can be sent wirelessly to smartphones or other devices, enabling actions such as making phone calls or sending messages with brushes of fabric.

"In our hyper-digital world, people constantly struggle to be physically present in their environment while maintaining a digital connection," said Levi Straus's head of global product innovation Paul Dillinger, who took part in a Google presentation at the gathering.

"The work that Google and Levi's are embarking upon with Project Jacquard delivers an entirely new value to consumers with apparel that is emotional, aspirational and functional."

Smart living and wearable technology will take centre stage at Asia's largest tech trade show from Tuesday with gadgets promising to do everything from analysing state of mind to identifying burglars.

Held in the capital Taipei, Computex will see 1,700 exhibitors from Taiwan and around the world with 130,000 visitors expected over the five-day event, now in its 35th year.

"Smart living and wearable technology remain the focus, but visitors will find more mature products," said David Liu, of the Taipei Computer Association.

While standalone smart products were on show previously, tech firms are now broadening their ambitions, says Liu.

"Many of the exhibitors demonstrated their smart home devices last year, like plugs, lights or locks, but those devices did not work as systems," he told AFP.

"The latest products use an app and infrared sensors to come up with a total solution. So in the case of home security, say, users can now automatically receive images of any intruders into their home."

Wearables have a dedicated area -- including smart watches, fabrics and glasses -- and will this year feature a new device which promises to measure stress levels caused by work through analysing "mind waves", organisers said.

Mobile technology and 3D innovations will also be key areas of this year's show.

But though Computex continues to attract major international players such as Intel, Microsoft and Ford, it comes at a time when Taiwan is fighting to maintain its tech edge in the face of intense competition from China.

Taiwan last month lowered its growth forecast, blaming increased competition from the mainland in the technology industry.

China has been forging ahead with the development of domestic smartphone brands and homegrown hardware, putting pressure on the export-driven technology hub.

Industry observers say that Taiwan must innovate in the burgeoning Internet of Things (IoT) market -- web-connected objects from watches to kitchen appliances -- if it is to keep its position.

The IoT market is forecast to grow 19 percent in 2015, according to US research firm IDC.

"In the years ahead, the Internet of Things will include millions of wearables for consumers as well as sensors and networks used in smart city rollouts throughout the world," said Singapore-based tech blogger Alfred Siew.

More than 1,000 Taiwanese firms will set out their stalls at Computex and will be anxious not to lag behind in the nascent IoT market, said Siew, having struggled to compete in the mobile sector.

"If they could offer managed services, software interfaces and data analytics to go with their traditional technical expertise in hardware, that could make their offerings even more interesting," Siew added.

Liu Meng-chun of Taiwanese think tank Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research agrees that the island needs to reinvent its tech identity.

"Mass manufacturing is no longer a proper way. Taiwan companies should put to use their innovation if they hope to survive the challenges," he told AFP.

"It's no easy task, but they have no choice."





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