There’s a new wearable revolution afoot, and it’s got nothing to do with your wrist. It’s called “woven technology,” or tech that’s woven right into fabric.
Tech giant Google has partnered with the original jeans-maker Levi’s to showcase just how this technology could change everyday life.
This partnership marks an inflection point in wearables. The launch of the Apple Watch was a watershed moment, marking the mainstreaming of wearables. Yet the sales numbers were not astronomical – the new product line generated only $1.7 billion for Apple in fiscal year 2015.
Rather than ring the death knell for wearables, fashion is now pushing the category further. The promise of a new revolution driven by technology-integrated clothing is intoxicating.
The latest example of wearable fashion moving from experimental to practical is Google and Levi’s new Trucker Jacket. The jacket infuses Google’s Project Jacquard technology into the jacket, which then acts as an interface for a smartphone tucked away in a biker’s pocket.
In travel, this could be a revolution that increases operational efficiency of front-line staff while also boosting accuracy of the behind-the-scenes crews moving the industry forward every day.
Levi’s and Google might just be on to something: here are four ways that woven tech could save travel suppliers money while enhancing the traveler experience in new and innovative ways.
De-clustering customer support staff
The introduction of tablets to the customer service workflow liberated staff from desks and led to the now-familiar “roving” customer service representative. Whether it’s the Virgin agent wearing Google Glass or the hotel clerk checking guests in on an iPad strapped to his wrist, technology has made customer service mobile. Google Glass even promised a new level of personalization for passengers in an experimental application with Virgin.
Woven technology holds a similar promise. Uniforms come with built-in interfaces that connect to specific systems, liberating data and empowering front-line customer support staff. Rather than limit the customer service function to one area of the enterprise, the ubiquitous uniforms expand the scope and definition of customer support. Employees become hosts and brand ambassadors regardless of title.
For example, a hotel experiencing a rush of incoming guests could temporarily re-assign a concierge or bellman to work the line. With the PMS right there on the sleeve, the employee can jump right in. And as the trend shifts to self check-in, the employee mix will shift to be more general support.The guest will walk straight to the door, and simply “sleeve in” to the room.
Real-time data dispersal
Embedded wearables liberate data from silos, bringing data to the employee in a direct and portable fashion. The employee benefits from real-time information pushed right to the uniform, and the durability of woven technology reduces costs associated with tech breakage.
For example, a baggage handler can scan tags without a handheld barcode reader, or a wing walker could use her arms as the light cones for guiding planes to and from gates — while enjoying better visibility at night due to embedded LEDs.
An airline could partner to create a fashion-forward accessory for flight attendants that shares all passenger information on a touch-responsive sleeve.
Rather than walk the aisle asking first class passengers what they’d like for dinner, attendants could see exactly what meal each passenger had selected before boarding. Traveler experience is improved, as is operational efficiency.
One existing concept of using wearables to personalize the travel experience is the “Happiness Blanket” from British Airways. The blanket translates passengers’ brainwaves into a color-coded representation of their state-of-mind.
Woven tech facilitates this sort of “soft” customer service, allowing employees to adapt quickly and accurately to customers’ well-being.
Reinvigorating the travel consultant
Travel consultants often seek new ways of engaging with clients, especially during a journey. The proliferation of messaging services has increased complexity when communicating with clients; woven technology could bring this communication right to the traveler’s sleeve while in destination.
This connection means that a consultant could quickly route updated information to the traveler and then use soft vibrations to alert the customer of a change in itinerary. Or the consultant dives into deep personalization through the use of wearable itineraries.
The consultant, often an expert in the places being visited by the client, builds itineraries that deliver directions, background, and personal recommendations to clients. With GPS, these itineraries would prompt and nudge the traveler when a recommended experience is nearby.
Improving the speed and accuracy of security
A sensor embedded in luggage includes a unique code identifying that bag. Rather than rely on paper bag tags, each bag is simply tied to a PNR. This bag could be registered by different people; each time, the bag is registered to that new PNR and tracked.
This gives security screeners a new level of data about a bag’s history, while also assuring travelers of the bag’s location at all times via a traveler-facing app integration.
Barcode scanning could shift from having to rely on the smartphone, with either a sleeve- or skin-based interface eliminating the need to hand over an expensive smartphone.
Passports already contain small chips embedded with traveler data, so an embedded sensor specific to travel could even replace ID altogether. Similar to PreCheck, travelers could purchase a line of garments that eliminates the need for ID through uniquely coded embedded chips.
There’s something intriguing about the personal touch of engaging with a digital interface on a textured surface. This woven interface suggests a new dimension of “bespoke itineraries” in travel, where a tailored fit happens twice: once upon purchasing a garment and then again when the garment personalizes the digital experience.
Of course, like all emerging technologies, there will be certain use cases that are more economically viable than others. If the fashion remains elusive to the mainstream, then the impact remains niche to the luxury traveler.
Standards also come into play, as any embedded sensor must be interoperable with others. A true wearable interface would also need to offer a larger screen with little interference due to fabric type.
Regardless of use, the fashion designers and the technologists have come together to infuse technology in one of the last untouched realms of modern society: right into the fabric on our backs. And as the cost of chips go down and processing power goes up, the sky’s the limit as far as imagining just how technology could weave into the fabric of our travel experience.