Remember Project Jacquard? Two years ago, Google showed off its “connected” jean jacket designed largely for bike commuters who can’t fiddle with their phone. The jacket launched this past fall, in partnership with Levi’s, offering a way for wearers to control music, screen phone calls, and get directions with a tap or brush of the cuff. Today, Google is adding more functionality to this piece of smart clothing, including support for ride-sharing alerts, Bose’s “Aware Mode,” and location saving.
The features arrived in the Jacquard platform 1.2 update which hit this morning, and will continue to roll out over the week ahead.
It’s sort of odd to see this commuter jacket adding ride-sharing support, given that its primary use case, so far, has been to offer a safer way to interact with technology when you can’t use your phone – namely, while biking, as showcased in the jacket’s promotional video. (See above).
But with the ride-sharing support, it seems that Google wants to make the jacket more functional in general – even for those times you’re not actively commuting.
To use the new feature, jacket owners connect Lyft and/or Uber in the companion mobile app, and assign the “rideshare” ability to the snap tag on the cuff. The jacket will then notify you when your ride is three minutes away and again when it has arrived. When users receive the notification, they can brush in from their jacket to hear more details about their ride.
Another new addition is support for Bose’s Aware Mode, which picks up surrounding sounds and sends them to the user’s ear through supported headphones. The feature is helpful in terms of offering some noise reduction without losing the ability to hear important things happening around you – like approaching vehicles, horns, and other people, for example.
Jacquard will now allow users to turn any gesture into a toggle for Aware Mode to turn it on or off for Bose’s QC30 and QC35 headphones.
And lastly, the jacket will support being able to drop a pin on the map to save a location then see, share or edit it from the app’s Activity screen.
The jacket continues to be a curious experiment with connected clothing – especially given that much of what the jacket can do, can now be accomplished with a smartwatch these days.
Google and Levi’s aren’t sharing sales numbers, so it’s hard to speak to adoption at this point, either.
However, a Google spokesperson did tell us that “[Levi’s is] pleased with the response and continue[s] to be excited to hear from people about what’s useful and what requests they have once they purchase the jacket.”
Given the addition of ride-sharing support, one wonders if maybe the focus is expanding beyond the bike commuters crowd, to those who just don’t like having their smartphone out, in general.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Bell & Ross releases a new watch for travelers
In my endless quest to get geeks interested in watches I present to you the Bell & Ross BR V2-93 GMT 24H, a new GMT watch from one of my favorite manufacturers that is a great departure from the company’s traditional designs.
The watch is a 41mm round GMT which means it has three hands to show the time in the 12-hour scale and another separate hand that shows the time in a 24 hour scale. You can use it to see timezones in two or even three places and it comes in a nice satin-brushed metal case with a rubber or metal strap.
B&R is unique because it’s one of the first companies to embrace online sales after selling primarily in watch stores for about a decade. This means the watches are slightly cheaper – this one is $3,500 – and jewelers can’t really jack up the prices in stores. Further B&R has a great legacy of making legible, usable watches and this one is no exception. It is also a fascinating addition to the line. B&R has an Instrument series which consists of large, square watches with huge numerals, and a Vintage series that hearkens back to WWII-inspired, smaller watches. This one sit firmly in the middle, taking on the clear lines of the Instrument inside of a more vintage case.
Ultimately watches like this one are nice tool watches – designed for legibility and usability above fashion. It’s a nice addition to the line and looks like something a proper geek could wear in lieu of Apple Watches and other nerd jewelry. Here’s hoping.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Kidbox raises $15.3 million for its personalized children’s clothing box
Kidbox, a clothing-in-a-box startup aimed at a slightly younger crowd than StitchFix, has raised $15.3 million in Series B funding to expand and scale its business.
The round was led by Canvas Ventures, and includes participation from existing investors Firstime Ventures and HDS Capital, as well as new strategic partners Fred Langhammer, former CEO of The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., and The Gindi Family, owners of Century 21 department stores.
To date, Kidbox has raised $28 million.
The company was founded in October, 2015, then shipped its first box of clothing out of beta testing during the back-to-school shopping season the next year.
Similar to StitchFix, Kidbox also curates a selection of around half a dozen pieces of clothing and other accessories (but not shoes), which are based on a child’s “style profile” filled out online by mom or dad. The profile asks for the child’s age, sizes, and questions about the child’s clothing preferences – like what colors they like and don’t like, as well as other styles to avoid – like if you have a child who hates wearing dresses, for example, or one who has an aversion to the color orange.
“Those answers feed into a proprietary algorithm – we’re very data science and tech focused,” explains Kidbox CEO Miki Berardelli. “That algorithm hits up against our product catalog at any given moment, and presents to our human styling team the perfect box for – just as an example, a size 7 sporty boy. And from there, the styling team looks at the box that’s been served up, the customer’s history, if they’re a repeat customer, the customer’s geography, and any notes [the customer] added to their account,” she says.
The box is then put together and shipped to the customer.
Berardelli previously worked at Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, and was President of Digital Commerce for Chico’s (Chico’s, White House Black Market, and Soma). She joined Kidbox in September 2016, after meeting founder Haim Dabah while he was searching for Kidbox’s CEO.
“It resonated with me as a consumer, as an early adopter of all things digital, and as a multi-time operator of e-commerce businesses,” she says, of why she decided to join the startup.
Today, Kidbox’s boxes are sent out seasonally for spring, summer, back-to-school, fall and winter. However, unlike StitchFix, Kidbox isn’t a subscription service – you can skip boxes at any time, and you’re not charged a “styling fee” or any other add-on fees.
However, if you keep the full box, Kidbox donates a new outfit to a child in need through a partnership with Delivering Good, a nonprofit that allows customers to choose the charity to receive their clothing donation.
At launch, Kidbox carried around 30 kid’s brands. It’s since grown its assortment to over 100 brands for kids ages newborn through 14, including well-known names like Adidas, DKNY, 7 for All Mankind, Puma, Jessica Simpson, Reebok, Diesel, and others.
Kidbox launches its own private labels
With the next back-to-school box, Kidbox will insert its own brands into the mix. The company will be launching multiple private labels across all ages, and every box will get at least one own-label item. The brands will include everything from onesies for babies to graphic tees to denim to basics, and more.
“We believe we’ve identified a void in the children’s apparel marketplace,” notes Berardelli. “The style sensibility of our exclusive brands will all have a unique personality, and a unique voice that’s akin to how our customers describe themselves. It’s all really based on customer feedback. Our customers tell us what they would love more of; and our merchandising team understands what they would like to be able to procure more of, in terms of rounding out our assortment,” she says.
On a personal note, a customer of both Kidbox and Rockets of Awesome, two of the leading kid box startups, what I appreciate about Kibox is the affordable price point – the whole box is under $100 – and its personal touches. Kidbox ships with crayons and a pencil-case for kids, and the box is designed for kids to color. It also includes a print edition of its editorial content, and sometimes, there’s a small toy included too.
Kidbox rival Rockets of Awesome is a little pricier, I’ve found, but has some unique pieces that make it worth checking out, as well.
With the new funding, Kidbox aims to further invest in its technology foundation, its data science teams, its own labels, its customer acquisition strategy and marketing.
The company doesn’t disclose how many customers it has or its revenues. Instead, it notes that the Kidbox “community” – which includes fluffy numbers like Facebook Page fans and people who signed up for emails – is over 1.2 million. So it’s hard to determine how many people are actually buying from Kidbox boxes.
Kidbox has potential in a market where brick-and-mortar retailers are closing their doors, and e-commerce apparel is on the upswing. But it – like others in the space – faces the looming threat posed by Amazon. The retailer has also just launched its clothing box service, Prime Wardrobe, which includes kids’ clothing.
“Kidbox is at the head of a trend that sees a world in which every person will have their own personalized storefront for literally anything — be it kids clothing, furniture, or weddings,” says Paul Hsiao, General Partner at Canvas Ventures, about the firm’s investment. Hsiao has also led investments in Zola and eporta while at Canvas, and in Houzz while at NEA.
“Kidbox is growing at atypically high multiples. I think it is because of their deep connection with their customers – the kids, the parents, and grandparents,” Hsiao continues. “The Kidbox Team is also remarkable at logistics. Sounds boring, but ecommerce is fundamentally a logistics business,” he adds.
Kidbox is currently a team of 35 based in New York.
News Source = techcrunch.com
Nike’s Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint leans hard into computational design
Computational design is the hottest phrase in manufacturing and 3D printing at the moment. It’s changing the way people make all kinds of goods, and Nike used it to design and manufacture its new Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint shoe, which it’s announcing today.
The shoe is a specialized edition of its Zoom Vaporfly Elite 4%, which was used by elite runner Eliud Kipchoge during Nike’s Breaking2 event, which resulted in the fastest marathon ever run. The special sauce in this edition is the FlyPrint upper, which is printed on the fly by a specially customized 3D printer out of a proprietary Nike polymer.
I spoke with Nike’s Brett Holts, product line manager for running footwear and Roger Chen, a senior director for Nike’s NXT Digital Innovation department, about the process and the shoe.
The material is printed out in a pattern specifically designed for a given athlete’s needs and attached to the much hyped Zoom X foam midsole from the 4% model. The process, which Nike is calling FlyPrint, has some similarities to Nike’s other famous ‘fly’ process, FlyKnit, hence the name. The printing process, says Chen, is a lot like painting the material.
The uppers I saw pre-lasting look a lot like a regular butterfly upper, with the same kind of flexibility you’re used to seeing from fabric or other polymer-based upper materials. This is not a hard-shell 3D-printed material, it’s a fabric of sorts. This is reinforced by the fact that several components of the shoe are still made of FlyKnit including the tongue and collar. Those parts are so similar in chemical composition that there is no glue needed to attach them. Instead, the FlyPrint material is bonded seamlessly with the FlyKnit, making for a one-piece design that is stronger and lighter.
The process of computer aided design in consumer products has a long history — but computational design is an evolution of this concept and has begun to gain steam lately with production-ready 3D-printing processes like Carbon’s M-series digital light synthesis printers and Desktop Metal’s Production System. The guiding force behind computational design is that you feed parameters and physical properties into a model — basically limitations and desired outcomes — and get designs that would either be impossible or incredibly time consuming for humans to produce.
In the case of the new FlyPrint upper, the constraints are the properties of the material and the forces that Kipchoge’s feet were exerting on that material. With that data, along with the chemical composition of the polymer, a computational model allowed Nike to tweak the design for support, flexibility, reinforcement or relaxation on a much more granular level than they could ever accomplish with FlyKnit.
If, for instance, Kipchoge felt that he needed more support through the arch area, the team could tweak that metric in that region, resulting in a more compact pattern of diamond-shaped lattice. In the FlyKnit world (and the world of most knit running shoes) this is done by creating various panels that reflect the properties you want from that portion of the shoe and glueing or stitching them together, adding weight and reducing strength.
Now, Nike can print a fully customized upper in one go, blending it seamlessly with FlyKnit where it makes sense for comfort.
The result of all of this is that the shoe is incredibly light. A 12 gram, or 6% reduction in weight to start. On top of that, one of Kipchoge’s big issues with the Vaporfly Elites in Berlin was water retention in the rain. The shoes started out light but water soaked into the FlyKnit and couldn’t fully make its way out. The FlyPrint upper is nearly translucent it’s so porous, which solves the drainage issue.
Chen says that Kipchoge said that it ‘felt like he was flying’ because he could feel the wind on his feet.
Another huge advantage to FlyPrint, points out Holts, is speed. Nike was able to design and construct every iteration of the shoe through to the final model in just 4 months. As a frame of reference, it typically takes 9 months to a year to get a shoe off the ground.
“We would never have been able to do that [with FlyKnit],” says Holts, “we were addressing the needs of our athlete within 24 hours.”
This day-long cycle — taking into account the Kenyan time differential — of trading feedback with Kipchoge and turning around his requested updates to fit or function was uniquely enabled by using the FlyPrint process.
Additionally, the modeling component of the process allows Nike to scale the shoe through various sizes while maintaining the appropriate ratios of material to negative space for each section.
Nike is using an established 3D printing process called fused deposition modeling, basically painting shapes onto a surface with production-ready TPU materials, but Chen says that the proprietary components of the process lie in how the printers are being driven to lay down the FlyPrint. Neither will say what printers Nike is using but note the company’s history in ‘hacking’ manufacturing tools to get the job done. As an industry note, Stratasys is one of the more established players in FDM printing.
Computational design and production ready 3D printing are changing footwear as we speak. Adidas and Carbon are focusing on the midsole in fashion and basketball, Nike is reinventing the upper for elite runners. But the real gem here might not be the speed or customization — both important advancements.
Instead, it could be the way that the design process is compressed down to mate directly with the manufacturing process. This has the potential to change not just footwear, but every kind of product made. Instead of the lengthy and costly process of injection molding or milling, product designers are, for the first time ever, able to start taking direct ownership of the production process, realizing impossible designs and goals with the use of a powerful feedback loop that includes designer, materials and process in one flow of data.
The Vaporfly Elite FlyPrint is a product for elite runners only, and a small amount of them will be available at an event in London soon, as well as on the feet of Kipchoge and other Nike runners. But there is an epochal shift in the way shoes (and other products) are made coming, and this is one of the harbingers of that shift. Pay attention.
News Source = techcrunch.com
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