Technology 3 min read

New System Uses Reprogrammable Ink to Change Object Colors

Using reprogrammable ink, scientists at MIT were able to give objects a chameleon-like capability -- change their colors when exposed to light sources.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

A team of researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has developed a new system that uses reprogrammable ink to enable objects to change their color.

The chameleons’ ability to change its color has bewildered observers for centuries. Even the greek thinker, Aristotle, was long mystified by the creature’s adaptive feature.

At the moment, the idea of camouflage for humans is a green outfit that matches the color of the grass. An inanimate object, on the other hand, is another story.

Thanks to a new system that uses reprogrammable ink, objects can now change color when exposed to visible or ultraviolet light sources.

The system, called PhotoChromeleon uses a mix of photochromic dyes that users have to either spray or paint onto the object’s surface to change its color. Not only is the process fully reversible, but users can also repeat it as many times as they want.

Individuals can apply the system on any surface, from customizing a car, shoe, to a phone case.

Lead author of the paper about the project and CSAIL postdoc, Yuhua Jin said:

“This special type of dye could enable a whole myriad of customization options that could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce overall waste. Users could personalize their belongings and appearance daily, without the need to buy the same object multiple times in different colors and styles.”

Creating PhotoChromeleon From Reprogrammable Ink

The researchers created the reprogrammable ink by mixing cyan, magenta, and yellow (CMY) photochromic dyes into a sprayable solution. With an understanding of how these dyes interact with different wavelengths, the team could control the color channel using light sources.

They were able to deactivate three different lights with separate wavelengths to eliminate each primary color.

For example, a blue light would mostly be absorbed by the yellow dye and be deactivated, leaving the magenta and cyan would remain. This will result in a blue-colored object.

Likewise, a green light would mostly be absorbed by magenta and be deactivated. Then both yellow and cyan would remain, resulting in green.

An object sprayed with PhotoChromeleon must be placed inside a box with a projector and UV light source. The UV lights desaturate the colors from transparent to full saturation while the projector desaturates the colors as required.

The new pattern appears when light activates the color. However, if a user doesn’t like a design, such a person can simply erase using the UV light and start again.

MIT Professor, Stefanie Mueller noted:

“By giving users the autonomy to individualize their items, countless resources could be preserved, and the opportunities to creatively change your favorite possessions are boundless.”

The researchers also developed a user interface that’ll enable users process designs and patterns automatically. Users simply have to load-up a blueprint, and the program generates the mapping onto the object. Then, the light can work its magic.

After successfully testing the system on a phone case, shoe, car model, and toy chameleon, the researchers are now working on ways to improve the dye.

Read More: Study Claims Earth Could Soon Lose its Blue Color

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Sumbo Bello

Sumbo Bello is a creative writer who enjoys creating data-driven content for news sites. In his spare time, he plays basketball and listens to Coldplay.

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