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UV light system switches the colors and patterns of objects

MIT researchers have developed a system that quickly updates images on object surfaces.

The system, called “Chromo Update”, combines an ultraviolet (UV) light projector with items coated with a light-activated dye.

The projected light changes the reflective properties of the dye and creates colorful new images in just minutes.

According to the researchers, the technique could speed up product development, allowing product designers to sift through prototypes without getting stuck in painting or printing.

“Chromo Update uses fast programming cycles – things that were not possible before,” said Michael Weasley, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

The system builds on the researchers’ earlier programmable matter system called Photo Chrome Leon.

That method was “the first to show that we can have high-resolution, multi-colored textures that we can reprogram over and over,” explains Weasely.

Photo Chrome Leon used a lacquer-like ink with cyan, magenta and yellow dyes. The user covered an object with a layer of ink, which could then be reprogrammed with light.

First, they exposed the ink to UV light from an LED, which completely saturated the dyes. They then selectively desaturated the dyes with a visible light projector, giving each pixel the desired color and leaving the final image.

Weasely said that while Photo Chrome Leon was innovative; it was also slow – it took about 20 minutes to update an image. “We can speed up the process,” he added. And the researchers achieved that with Chromo Update, by refining the UV saturation process.

Rather than using an LED that shines evenly across the entire surface, Chromo Update uses a UV projector that can vary the light levels across the surface. The operator thus has control at pixel level over the saturation levels. “We can locally saturate the material in the exact pattern we want,” said Weasely.

According to the researchers, this saves time. For example, someone designing a car’s exterior might just want to add racing stripes to an otherwise finished design, and Chromo Update lets them do just that, without erasing and reprojecting the entire exterior.

With this selective saturation procedure, designers can create a black and white preview of a design in seconds, or a full-color prototype in minutes. That means that they could try out dozens of designs in one work session, an achievement that was previously unattainable.

“You can really have a physical prototype to see if your design really works,” said Weasely. “You can see what it looks like when sunlight shines on it or when shadows are cast. It is not enough to do this on a computer alone. “

That speed also means designers can use Chromo Update to provide real-time notifications without relying on screens, they said. “An example is your coffee mug,” Weasely explained.

“You put your mug in our projector system and program it to show your daily schedule. And it instantly updates itself when a new meeting arrives for the day or shows you the weather forecast. Weasely hopes to keep improving the technology.

Currently, the light-activated ink is specialized for smooth, rigid surfaces such as mugs, phone cases or cars. But the researchers are working on flexible, programmable textiles.

using luminous fibers, “Weasely said.” So we could have clothes – t-shirts and shoes and all that stuff – that can reprogram themselves.

“The researchers are working with a group of textile makers in Paris to see how Chromo Update can be included in the design process.