Google’s latest experiment in the fusion of textile and technology is quite interesting and may allow for a future where normal cords and cables can be used to issue commands to electronic devices. The company claims that braided fibres can be combined with machine learning to enable gesture commands for stuff like headphone cables and more. The company has detailed in its new research how such a braided cable in a headphone cord can let users control media by simply tapping, pinching, squeezing, or twisting it.
Google’s research builds on the company’s previous interactive e-textile architecture experience. It has developed a new product called I/O Braid that is essentially a combination of touch-sensing textiles and fibre optics. I/O Braid can sense the input being given by the user and can also give visual feedback. The braid uses what Google calls a “helical sensing matrix” (or HSM) to register commands from users. A series of capacitive and conductive yarns are woven into the braid, allowing it to identify when it’s touched by someone’s hand with 360 degrees of visibility.
Although the braid is very much just a research project at this point, Google suggests many ways it could be integrated into consumer electronics. You could use it to add touch controls to the power cord on a smartphone speaker, for example, or to your headphones. Or you could create a hoodie with touch-sensitive drawstrings that connect to your phone and control your music.
Google says I/O Braid can sense six different interactions on the cable including twist, flick, slide, pinch, grab, and pat. Google is still experimenting with the technology and it will take some time before a more refined version can be released as a part of mass-market products.
Google says its software can recognize different gestures with around 94 per cent accuracy. That’s a good start, but likely too inaccurate for consumer products. Another potential problem is that if the technology was integrated into headphones, say, then there would also be ample opportunities for accidental commands. In the future, the technology could be used in several ways like adding touch and gesture controls on a headphone cord, hoodie drawstring or a smart speaker cord.