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Coming soon: clothes that take photographs

MIT boffins stitch together photo fabric

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One day your clothes could take photographs, according to MIT scientists who have made a fabric that can capture images of a smiley face.

A team at MIT's Department of Materials Science and Engineering has developed an optical-fibre mesh that can detect an image projected onto it.

“This is the first time that anyone has demonstrated that a single plane of fibres, or fabric, can collect images just like a camera but without a lens," said Yoel Fink, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who led the research team.

Each fibre in the 100mm square fabric is less than 1mm in diameter and is formed from two concentric light-sensitive semiconductor cylinders separated and surrounded by insulating polymer layers. The semiconductors effectively measure the intensity of the light illuminating them and convert it to an electrical signal.

The signals from all the fibres are amplified and read by a computer. The fibres detect different wavelengths of light - colours, basically - and pass that information to the PC.

The MIT team placed the smiley face picture in front of the fabric and illuminated it with two wavelengths of light. Software on the PC read the signals from the fibres and used the information to reproduce on the screen what the fabric 'sees'.

What’s the future of this technology? Will we all be wearing 12Mp jackets able to snap pictures of people and places around us? Not quite, said Fink.

Such applications are still a long way from being realised he says. but his team’s work is a “significant” step in that direction. “The current version of these fabrics can only image nearby objects,” he said.

A major advantage of optical fibre webs lies in their distributed imaging capability, according to Fink. So if one area is damaged the other fibres can still function. ®

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