At 40 seconds into this ad, you can see a glimpse of the future according to ‘Under Armor’ – a women in a (terrifyingly thin) body suit interacts with some wrist mounted UI, selects a color for the bottom half of her suit, and then the top, and then off she runs.  It’s cool, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Last year or so, a new sci-fi series from Canada popped up called Continuum – where a female cop from the future ends up in a present quite close to our own.  One of her few relics of the future is her incredible smart suit – which as you can see from this clip, also has the ability to change color.

So, how close are we?  Alas, I haven’t been able to find any color-changing fabrics triggered by electricity yet.

There is the widely available thermo-chromic fabric, which will change around body temperature from one color state to another, lighter, color state.  Effectively, there’s an underlying substrate color of the fabric, and an overlaid thermoreactive layer which turns transparent when heated.

Then, in the world of electroreactive materials, there’s been work done in the realms of smart glass and e-paper – which usually take one of two forms.  A lot of e-paper involves tiny reservoirs of magnetically influenced ink particles which can be made to either recede and hide, or pushed out to the surface to present themselves.  Doing so, makes every tiny reservoir a ‘pixel’ that can be turned on or off with a magnetic pulse.   Chameleons use a similar system of tiny reservoirs.

Smart glass, on the other hand, can be considered ‘one giant pixel’ – where you change the transparency of a whole window in one go.  This is done using a thin film consisting of 5 layers sandwiched together, one of which can take or give electrons to actually change and thus become transparent or opaque.

For my purposes, these are the only applicable tech I’ve seen – there may be others that require a constant electrical input to maintain one of their states, but I’ve no interest in that.

So I’ve been wondering if you could create individual electrochromic threads using the smart-glass system – instead of 5 layers, you could use a conductive thread core, and then four flexible coatings – giving you the 5 layers you need, but in a cylindrical form instead of a flat plane.  Then, each thread would need to be connected to a conductive control mechanism – or perhaps you could use weft-threads to ensure that each thread was connected at multiple points (helping to avoid any ‘dead pixels’ from damaged threads).

Of course, that would mean that your fabric would likely have two states – copper or silver colored (the most common colorings for conductive thread) from the core filament, to white/grey from the scattered smart-glass like coating.  (Though I see that a dark blue color has been discovered – far more exiting than frosted white!)  Silver to dark blue sounds pretty nifty.  Copper to black (blue and orange subtractive) would be just like Kiera’s suit from Continuum!

But alas, it’s not happened yet.  Maybe Under Armor has alternative plans for how they intend to make color changing body suits.  Maybe someone else is working on a much better way to do it!  I hope so – I’d love to see what we can do.