Behold Lumalive, a piece of flexible material studded with 100 inorganic light-emitting diodes and some drive electronics. It’s barely big enough to cover a dinner plate, but it can light up kind of like your computer monitor, displaying messages, fuzzy pictures, and assorted psychedelic art. It is the brainchild of the Philips Photonics Textiles research group, in Eindhoven, the Netherlands.
Your feelings about Lumalive may well be determined by how you feel about flashy publicity gimmicks that compete for your attention as you stroll across a convention show floor. Don’t think there are enough of them? You’re gonna love Lumalive!
The Philips executives who have plucked what they call “photonic textiles” from the Eindhoven lab’s rich portfolio of ambient technology research projects seem to believe that Lumalive can generate a Tronâ''like freak show more compelling than the usual trinket-distributing lovelies and Vegas-style miniature floor shows. The pitch: let your corporate logo dance on your chest and watch the business cards fly into the fishbowl.
What Philips calls a photonic textile is actually a removable display that is water-resistant but not washable. It fits into an opening in the garment or upholstery and is then covered with a thin fabric through which the light from the LEDs diffuses. The malleable display is tethered to a case—a bit larger than a deck of cards—that houses the controller and a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, which lasts 4 hours.
Martijn Krans, technology manager of the Philips Photonics Textiles research group, explained in an interview that the display consists of 100 tiny red, green, and blue LEDs arrayed in a flexible wire mesh. By applying current along the rows and columns of the mesh, the controller can address individual LEDs located at the intersections as pixels and can refresh them at a rate fast enough to display dynamic images: scrolling messages or moving patterns.
Best of all, Krans says, you can program the display using a cellphone. “The interactivity of the system comes from the mobile phone, which can also be linked to the controller,” he says. Although he would not give any details, he says that the displays can have their own phone numbers to which users can send text messages and animations.
Leaving aside the absurdity of paying for your shirt or couch to have its own phone number, such wireless interactivity raises the specter of mischief—by which, of course, we mean outright hilarity. What self-respecting geek could avoid giving in to the temptation to do a little “shirt hacking”? A new-age dandy at a party sporting a swirling light display would be an irresistible target for a little impromptu coding—that is, to replace the swirling lights with the message “I am a dork.”