‘Reprogrammable’ Ink Lets you Chameleon-ify Objects

Chameleons’ ability to change their skin colors to match those of their surroundings is so impressive it could be considered a kind of watered-down superpower. But while changing one’s skin to match the environment probably isn’t all that appealing to anybody who isn’t a wannabe X-Men Lite, everybody can agree that frequently and fluidly changing the appearance of say, an iPhone case or a pair of shoes would be pretty Dope City, U.S.A. So we should all be very excited that researchers at MIT now have a prototype ink for doing exactly that.

In a recently published paper (via Futurism), researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) say that they have created a reprogrammable, semi-permanent “PhotoChromeleon” ink that can change color by being bombarded with either UV or visible light. The paper notes that “key idea builds on the use of pho-tochromic [sic] inks that can switch their appearance from transparent to colored when exposed to light of a certain wavelength.” You’re probably already familiar with the photochromic effect, even if you haven’t heard of it — Have you ever seen or worn glasses that have lenses that darken in sunlight? Those are photochromic.

This PhotoChromeleon ink is unlike other photochromic inks, however; light can “paint” it into semi-permanent patterns and pictures you can leave on objects indefinitely. The user can also totally reprogram the PhotoChromeleon ink as well. Somebody could continuously repaint an object with semi-permanent illustrations ad infinitum.

In order to achieve the PhotoChromeleon ink’s ability to change repeatedly into different semi-permanent patterns, the CSAIL researchers mixed cyan, magenta, and yellow photochromic dyes into a single solution. Hit that combined solution with different wavelengths of UV or visible light in order to deactivate or activate different combinations of the three primary colors.  Therefore you can generate almost any color from the visible light spectrum.

The inks are either made visible or not based on their intrinsic physical properties and the type of light they absorb — the different dyes are activated by different wavelengths of light, which means you can activate any combination of the three in any way you choose by hitting a given point on the inked object with whatever wavelength(s) of light will achieve the desired color. Unlike the lenses you’d find in photochromic glasses, however, PhotoChromeleon’s colors can be sustained even in normal ambient light; a trait achieved by using particular shades of photochromic magenta, cyan, and yellow that aren’t easily affected by the normal range of ambient light wavelengths.

The researchers say that the purpose of PhotoChromeleon ink is to help fulfill “the promise of a future in which objects will re-configure themselves according to a user’s needs.” This could apply to everything from clothing to accessories to cars, and could help mitigate the waste caused by buying redundant items in different colors.

What do you think of this PhotoChromeleon ink? If you could buy it right now, what would you paint with it? Bring your thoughts out of camouflage in the comments!

Images: MIT CSAIL 

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