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MIT’s amazing reprogrammable ink can create color-changing objects

Photochromeleon: Creating Color-Changing Objects

Remember that Hypercolor brand of clothing from the early 1990s that changed color with heat? Well, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) just created an awesome update of the concept — courtesy of new reprogrammable ink that allows objects to shift colors and patterns in response to UV and visible light sources.

The paint is called PhotoChromeleon, and consists of a mixture of photochromic dyes that can be sprayed or painted onto any surface. So far, its creators have tested it on a car model, phone case, shoe, and — appropriately enough — a toy chameleon. The process is completely reversible and can reportedly be repeated an unlimited number of times.

“This special type of dye could enable a whole myriad of customization options that could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce overall waste,” said CSAIL postdoc researcher Yuhua Jin, lead author of a paper describing the work, in a statement. “Users could personalize their belongings and appearance on a daily basis, without the need to buy the same object multiple times in different colors and styles.”

The project builds on a previous MIT project called ColorMod, which used a 3D printer to create items able to change color. However, as cool as that idea sounds, the team responsible for it was frustrated by how limited the results were in terms of color schemes and resolution. PhotoChromeleon, by contrast, makes it possible to create far more elaborate designs, ranging from zebra skin patterns to multicolored flames. Each color can be carefully controlled through an exact knowledge of how each dye interacts with assorted wavelengths of light.

While the project is still in the proof-of-concept stages, MIT has already attracted the interest of Ford Motor Company, which supported the previous ColorMod project.

“We believe incorporation of novel, multi-photochromic inks into traditional materials can add value to Ford products by reducing the cost and time required for fabricating automotive parts,” Alper Kiziltas technical specialist of sustainable and emerging materials at Ford, said in a statement. “This ink could reduce the number of steps required for producing a multicolor part, or improve the durability of the color from weathering or UV degradation. One day, we might even be able to personalize our vehicles on a whim.”

Hey, we’d be happy enough just with a pair of color-changing kicks like the one demonstrated in MIT’s demo video (above).

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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