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University of Central Florida

Color-changing smart clothes will make you a chameleon

This is the next generation of wearables.

Make it pink. Make it blue. Or make it pink and blue stripes. With color-changing smart fabric, you can change your outfit with the press of a button on an app. 

Researchers at the University of Central Florida are taking wearables to the next level with a new color-changing fabric they call ChroMorphous. Controlled by an app, this battery-powered fabric physically changes color when turned on.

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Fashion and technology sometimes make an awkward pair. Levi's has a jacket that can connect to Uber or Lyft. Samsung has a suit that can unlock a phone. Pizza Hut has sneakers that pause the TV.

But instead of slapping smarts to existing clothing, UCF takes a different approach. The tech is woven throughout the fabric, using threads that incorporate micro-wires and color-changing pigments.

I got a chance to see the color-changing fabric myself, as well as talk to the team that developed it at UCF's College of Optics and Photonics. Watch the video (embedded above) to learn how it works and my impressions of how it feels.

The possibilities go beyond a purse, as shown in the demo. The UCF team got this technology to be scalable, so it can be mass produced using a process called fiber spinning. The researchers are now working with fashion designers to create color-changing dresses -- but to make it more appealing, they want to get the threads even thinner. Currently, the material feels similar to canvas, like a tote bag.

In search of other smart threads I also came across work being done at Ohio State University, where researchers are embroidering lightweight, washable antennas into clothing. These e-threads can transmit various data, boost wireless signals -- or, in the future, perhaps be used to control smart home devices and virtual reality games. (You can also see it in the video embedded above.)

The future of smart fashions promise new function -- but also, a little bit of fun.

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