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Self-Contained Electrochromic Platform for Sensing and Displaying Color and Pattern

This device is capable of recognizing and replicating color schemes with a simplistic bio-inspired system

Published: 16th May 2022
Self-Contained Electrochromic Platform for Sensing and Displaying Color and Pattern


Color surrounds our daily existence and has been implemented for centuries in our self-expression. Whether it be the color of our clothes, accessories or personal belongings, a choice is to be made daily. When it comes to our extensive selection of colors, nature has always been our largest benefactor, providing hues such as “dark forest green” or “ocean blue.” Yet there is a completely distinct quality of color that nature has provided, which we have yet to tap into: color change. Cephalopods, like octopus and squids, have the amazing ability to completely shift their physical appearance in both color and pattern, effectively blending in with their environment. This is an incredibly elusive process, which many have attempted to replicate. Yet, generating a platform capable of both sensing and displaying shifting arrays of color requires bulky machines (e.g., separate computer) significantly larger than the coloration device, and are temperature-sensitive, meaning their functionality would be overridden in cold or warm climates.

Technology Overview

Northeastern researchers have taken an innovative approach to color change display, attempting to mimic the biological process of adaptive coloration instead of solely relying on computational technology. The device incorporates the use of Xanthommatin, the color-shifting pigment responsible for color shifts in cephalopod tissues. The lightweight, battery-powered system uses commercially available microcontrollers and reflectance-based light sensors to measure color and pattern, which are subsequently displayed through arrayed electrochromic pixels. This system is remarkably effective, requiring less than a second to perform a full-color shift, and does not require any external interphases. Furthermore, due to its elegantly simplistic design, this technology is affordable and easy to manufacture.

Recently, the lab was further able to harness the voltage‑dependent color-shifting properties of Xanthommatin into InkJet-compatible inks for printing electrochromic pixels, which can be placed onto conducting substrates such as glass and bioplastics with significant precision to generate low‑power, color‑flexible large scale displays.


  • Unlike other color-adapting technologies, this device boasts temperature-independent performance, making it suitable for any climate.
  • This device can be fabricated without specialized facilities and uses inexpensive, easily accessible components.
  • This platform can sense and generate a variety of distinct colors, unachievable even by cephalopods, allowing for useful design flexibility.
  • InkJet printing properties allow for the rendering of precise patterns


  • Themed coloration of surfaces based on user’s desired appearance
  • Items and fabrics that shift in appearance based on user’s immediate environment
  • Flexible active color shifting patterns applicable in large-scale signage



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Research collaboration

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