The color-changing capabilities of chameleons have long bewildered willing observers. While humans can't yet camouflage much beyond a green outfit to match grass, inanimate objects are another story. From a report: A team from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) has brought us closer to this chameleon reality, by way of a new system that uses reprogrammable ink to let objects change colors when exposed to ultraviolet (UV) and visible light sources. Dubbed "PhotoChromeleon," the system uses a mix of photochromic dyes that can be sprayed or painted onto the surface of any object to change its color -- a fully reversible process that can be repeated infinitely. PhotoChromeleon can be used to customize anything from a phone case to a car, or shoes that need an update. The color remains, even when used in natural environments. "This special type of dye could enable a whole myriad of customization options that could improve manufacturing efficiency and reduce overall waste," says CSAIL postdoc Yuhua Jin, the lead author on a new 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." PhotoChromeleon builds off of the team's previous system, "ColorMod," which uses a 3-D printer to fabricate items that can change their color. Frustrated by some of the limitations of this project, such as small color scheme and low-resolution results, the team decided to investigate potential updates. With ColorMod, each pixel on an object needed to be printed, so the resolution of each tiny little square was somewhat grainy. As far as colors, each pixel of the object could only have two states: transparent and its own color. So, a blue dye could only go from blue to transparent when activated, and a yellow dye could only show yellow. But with PhotoChromeleon's ink, you can create anything from a zebra pattern to a sweeping landscape to multicolored fire flames, with a larger host of colors.
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