Technology 4 min read

New Techwear: Smartphone-Controlled Color Changing Fabric

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A team of researchers from the University of Central Florida have developed a fabric which can change color and be controlled via a smartphone.

Some already think that 3D printing will render Amazon’s on-demand clothing patent useless. The key to brick and mortar and e-commerce outlets getting into the techwear market is in using materials 3D printers can’t.

Since major fashion labels such as Tommy Hilfiger are moving toward adaptive clothing and techwear, it follows that educational institutions would be at the forefront of this, too.

Of course, the idea behind color changing fabric is not a new one.

We have had light-up shoes and, more recently, those mesmerizing glitter switching pillows. But this take from UCF merges new materials with technology for more impact.

Fiber Spinning for ChroMorphous Accessories

…every inch of the material is wired and it can be programmed to change color..” says the CNET video above.

Dubbed ChroMorphous, you can control the battery-operated fabric with a smartphone app. It can be a variety of colors, as well as some color patterns for now.

The different this techwear and things like Levi’s ride-sharing jacket is that the technology is not just tacked onto the clothing. The fibers and technology are interwoven.

This means that color changing pigments and microwires can alter the item’s color.

Professor Ayman Abouraddy leads the team at the College of Optics and Photonics at UCF. Their prototypes include backpacks and purses created using the technique they call “fiber spinning”.

The next step involves working alongside fashion designers to make color-changing dresses. Could this fabric make my Project Runway season 13 color-changing dress dreams come true?

Before they can attempt that, they’ll need to get the fabric threads thinner, according to CNET. The research team has mentioned that they do have a scalable model for the technology already theorized.

Potential Impediments to Their Color Changing Fabric

One impediment to the UCF research team revolves around the rechargeable battery pack. This battery pack is what activates the electric current that flows through those aforementioned microwires.

The current raises the temperature, causing those special pigments to change color.

Some people aren’t convinced that heat is the best way to approach color changing fabric given current tech availabilities. As someone who lives in a state with temperatures often exceeding 90 degrees, I can see why heat might not be the best triggering factor.

image of a Comment from John Gyver about how heat could affect the technology for article New Techwear: Smartphone-Controlled Color Changing Fabric
Comment from John Gyver about how heat could affect the technology | YouTube

As John Gyver points out, not only will the battery power drain quickly, ambient temperatures might affect performance.

Other commenters expressed excitement over getting that much closer to making video game inventions real-world realities.

image of Commenter PowerhousePR expresses excitement about Metal Gear Solid Octocamo Suit for article New Techwear: Smartphone-Controlled Color Changing Fabric
Commenter PowerhousePR expresses excitement about Metal Gear Solid Octocamo Suit | YouTube

And while these “e-threads” can transmit electrical currents, they can’t transmit data yet. But Abouraddy told Digital Trends that he hopes this techwear will ultimately have a bigger impact on the environment and society at-large.

We hope that in the future people will assume clothes can do more than just protect [you] from the environment.” He added that the team simply wanted to add “functionality” to the clothes we wear every day.

He likened it to how cell phones adapted to have internet access and cameras. But another perk is how people could save money by simply changing the color of their clothes and accessories.

Sights on the Horizons of Future Features

ChroMorphous only offers a few factory setting color options for now. But the CREOL research team wants to add more colors and patterns as the technology develops.

The full transition also takes around 45 seconds, which isn’t ideal. The available battery power also affects the amount of time the fabric takes to transition. In tandem with the limited color options, these factors inhibit widespread adoption currently.

But the fabric is washable, provided you remove the battery pack of course.

If Abouraddy and company can figure out how to use smaller batteries or alternative power sources, perhaps we will all have color changing fabric in our wardrobes soon.

Which article of clothing do you think would best utilize color changing fabric?

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Juliet Childers

Content Specialist and EDGY OG with a (mostly) healthy obsession with video games. She covers Industry buzz including VR/AR, content marketing, cybersecurity, AI, and many more.

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