Color-changing Hypercolor shirts were all the rage in the ’90s. But for the most part, when something is made, its color is set. That’s true for everything from iPhone cases to dresses to cars.
New research out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology could change the way we look at color forever—not as a permanent finish for a product, but as a temporary identity programmed into it. MIT has developed a new light-sensitive paint that makes it cheap, easy, and fast to update the color and pattern on just about anything. All you need is a special light box and a few minutes of time.
Dubbed ChromoUpdate, the basic idea is this: MIT’s paint is applied to a product. The paint itself is usually clear. But when exposed to particular frequencies of light, it reveals hidden pigments.
When blasted with ultraviolet light, the paint turns black (and yes, that’s the same kind of invisible light you’ve been hearing about for blasting the SARS-CoV-2 virus to purify surfaces and air). Within just 60 seconds, ultraviolet light can draw an intricate grayscale pattern onto the paint’s surface—anything from printed words to mountainous landscapes—in high-resolution fidelity. Then the design stays around, even after you remove it from the UV light.