MIT creates a system that can change colors and patterns of objects using light

Typically when you purchase something like a case for your phone, the color or image on it is static and can't be changed. When you want a different color or a different image, you have to buy a new case. MIT has developed a system that uses light and special light-activated dye to create programmable matter.

Researchers on the project think the new programmable matter technique could allow product designers to create prototypes easily and quickly. The technique allows the rapid update of imagery on the surfaces of objects. The system is called ChromoUpdate and pairs an ultraviolet light projector with items coated in a light-activated dye.

Light from the projector can alter the dye's reflective properties, allowing it to create colorful new images in only a few minutes. MIT researchers say their system could enable product designers to create multiple prototypes without spending time painting or printing. ChromoUpdate builds on a previous programmable matter system designed by the same research team called PhotoChromeleon.

That past method was the first developed that showed high-resolution, multicolor textures could be reprogrammed over and over again. That process used ink comprised of cyan, magenta, and yellow dyes, and the object was covered with a layer of that ink, allowing it to be reprogrammed using light. The problem with that process was that it was slow, taking about 20 minutes to update an image.

ChromoUpdate addresses the slow speed by fine-tuning the UV saturation process. Rather than using an LED as the previous process did, ChromoUpdate uses a UV projector to vary light levels across the entire surface. That gives the user pixel-level control over saturation levels allowing the material to be saturated locally using the exact pattern desired. Users can create a black-and-white preview design in seconds or a full-color prototype in minutes.