Fashion and textiles may be among the last places you’d expect to see innovation. But college researchers in Florida have figured out a revolutionary fabric that can alter its color with a mild change in temperature.

Now fashion designers will be able to modify your handbag or scarf to match the rest of your outfit, thanks to a new fabric dubbed ChroMorphous.

Dr. Ayman Abouraddy, professor of optics and photonics at the College of Optics & Photonics at the University of Central Florida (CREOL), said in an interview with VentureBeat that the age of user-controlled color-changing fabric is here.

“Our goal is to bring this technology to the market to make an impact on the textile industry,” he said.

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With ChroMorphous, each woven thread is equipped with a micro-wire and a color-altering pigment. You can use your smartphone to change the color or pattern of the fabric on demand, as the wire can alter the temperature of the fabric in a quick and uniform way. The change in temperature is barely noticeable by touch, Abouraddy said.

Abouraddy and Josh Kaufman worked on optical technology for more than a decade at CREOL, but in the past couple of years they have veered away from that work to produce this new kind of fabric.

Above: This backpack can change its color on demand to match your mood.

Image Credit: UCF

“This is the culmination of our work,” said Kaufman. “We developed different fabrication techniques. This is our first foray in taking those optical fibers into fabric.”

This color change differs from previously available color-changing fabrics, which contain light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that emit light of various colors. Instead, CREOL’s ChroMorphous technology enables a never-before-seen capability: user-controlled dynamic color and pattern change in large woven fabrics and cut-and-sewn textile products.

The threads are made from a synthetic polymer. Each thread woven into the fabric incorporates within it a thin metal micro-wire. An electric current flows through the micro-wires (and does not touch a person’s skin), thus slightly raising the thread’s temperature. Special pigments embedded in the thread then respond to this modification of temperature by changing the thread’s color.

For the first time ever, the technology allows the user to control both when the color change happens and what pattern they want to appear on the fabric. Using an app, the consumer can choose from a variety of patterns and colors to suit their need or mood — all from the tap of a button on their smart device.

The capabilities of electronics are constantly increasing, and we always expect more from our iPhones, so why haven’t textiles been updated before now?

“Can we expect an ever-expanding range of functionalities from our clothing? These were the questions we asked, and the foundation for creating the ChroMorphous technology that we began developing in 2016,” Abouraddy said.

He said the technology is scalable at mass-production levels via a process known as fiber-spinning and is currently produced in Melbourne, Florida, with CREOL’s collaborators at Hills.

The CREOL team is working with Hills to further reduce the diameter of the threads in order to produce fabrics for wide-scale market adoption. Ultimately, the patent-pending fabric has the ability to be used across a broad range of applications, from clothing and accessories to furniture and fixed installations in housing and business decor.

The fabric is powered by a rechargeable battery pack that is hidden inside clothing. The texture of the fabric is like denim, and it can be washed and ironed.

Abouraddy said he expects mass production to begin within the next year. At the moment, the threads are too thick for shirts, but they will work with bags, handbags, scarves, and backpacks.

Your handbag can change its color thanks to ChroMorphous.

Above: Your handbag can change its color thanks to ChroMorphous.

Image Credit: UCF

“We would reduce the threads in the future to make it more comfortable for a shirt,” Abouraddy said. “It’s not just for things you would wear. It could be upholstery, wall decorations for a room … you could change it to darker and more soothing colors.”

The product is the result of a decade of research and about a year and a half of focus on fabrics.

Rivals include designers who have tried making gimmicks with LED lights, but that often consumes too much energy.

“Other solutions have been passive,” Kaufman said. “In our case, the user pushes a button and makes it change.”