In a move that could have wide-range applications for clothing and furniture, researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have developed a color-changing fabric that can be controlled with a smartphone. The technology is currently being applied to prototypes for products, such as backpacks and purses, CNBC reported.
UCF Professor of Optics & Photonics Dr. Ayman Abouraddy said in a press release, “The capabilities of electronics constantly increase, and we always expect more from our iPhones, so why haven’t textiles been updated? Can we expect an ever-expanding range of functionalities from our clothing? These were the questions we asked, and the foundation for creating the ChroMorphous technology that we began developing in 2016.”
The technology uses a series of micro-wires that are weaved into the clothing — along with a battery pack. When electrical currents flow through the wires, the temperature of the threads is raised. As a result, special pigments in the thread are able to change their colors. This new technology is different from other previous “color-changing” fabrics on the market that rely on light emitting diodes (LEDs). Beyond controlling a fabric’s colors, users change what pattern appears on the fabric from their smartphone. For example, a user can gradually add blue stripes to a solid color tote bag by pressing a “stripe” button on their smartphone or computer.
As of now, the university’s team is making the products in Melbourne, Florida with collaborators at Hills, Inc., and the team is working to create thinner fabrics that could be applied to apparel, such as t-shirts. In the future, researchers think the color-changing fabrics can have medical and military applications — among other uses.
“Ultimately, the patent-pending fabric has the ability to be used across a broad range of applications from clothing and accessories to furniture and fixed installations in housing and business décor,” UCF said in the release.
The news comes as manufacturers have embedded all sorts of technology into clothing. For instance, through a pilot earlier this year (which was later discontinued), L.L. Bean designed coats and boots with near-field communication (NFC) sensors that interface with an ethereum-based platform.
In 2016, Rochambeau’s BRIGHT BMBR started coming with a hidden pocket in the jacket’s left sleeve, which contained a pull-out label emblazoned with a unique QR code and an NFC chip. From there, the jacket or a handbag could deliver special experiences — such as offers, coupons, vouchers, partner experiences, cross-sell and upsell opportunities and loyalty benefits — that get pushed through to the user’s smartphone. The BRIGHT BMBR unlocks exclusive, curated New York City experiences at restaurants and nightclubs, as well as art and fashion destinations.
Will UCF’s color-changing technology also be used as part of a promotion or marketing campaign to consumers, too? Only time will tell.