Color-Changing Threads Might One Day Turn Your T-Shirt Into a Screen

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Look around and count the number of screens surrounding you. You’ll probably run out of fingers before you’re done, but why stop there? Researchers at UC Berkeley have come up with a way to weave color-changing threads into fabrics, turning even garments into yet another display.

The team behind this technology, which they call Ebb, developed it to explore how fashion and clothing would change if the wearer could adjust the color whenever they wanted to. Using thermochromatic threads that change their hue when a voltage is applied, a garment could be perfectly color-matched to almost anything—or simply programmed to never be white after Labor Day.

In its current form, the colors of the woven textiles take a long time to slowly fade between hues. That’s why the team is currently focused on the fashion implementations for the technology, because the refresh rate would be impossibly slow as a computer display. But the demo video does show the researchers, led by Laura Devendorf, dabbling in recreating a simple segmented alphanumeric display like you’d find on an alarm clock.


As the technological progresses, these textiles might eventually be able to change color as quickly as an e-ink display does. So in addition to just changing its color, dynamic patterns could be introduced to the fabric, animations, and even detailed images. One day you might even be able to just look down at your shirt to see if you’ve missed any phone calls, or have any messages that need a response. No, wait, that’s just spilled ketchup.