Ever wish you could change the color of your sneakers whenever you feel like it or update your phone case with a custom design instead of buying a new one? A future where inanimate objects can change colors like a chameleon may not be that far off. A multi-disciplinary team of researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory has developed a "reprogrammable" ink that can change color when exposed to UV light. Called PhotoChromeleon, the innovation stands out from earlier color-changing experiments because it's fully reversible and can be repeated infinitely.
"This special type of dye could enable a whole myriad of customization options that could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce overall waste," says Yuhua Jin, the lead author on a paper about the project. "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."
So how does it work? The ink is created by mixing cyan, magenta, and yellow photochromic dyes into a sprayable solution. Once the object has been sprayed, its placed in a box with a projector and UV light. Each color interacts with different wavelengths so exposing the ink to UV light allows you to activate or deactivate specific colors to achieve the desired result. See the process in action here:
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So far the team has experimented with a toy car, a phone case, a shoe, and a toy chameleon. Depending on the object, the process takes anywhere from 15 to 40 minutes. They also experimented with mapping patterns onto the objects and achieved successful, high-resolution results.
MIT has been collaborating with the Ford Research and Innovation Center to develop the technology. "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," said Alper Kiziltas, technical specialist of sustainable and emerging materials at Ford Motor Co. "One day, we might even be able to personalize our vehicles on a whim."