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Material illumination

‘LightCloth’ is a new interactive fabric that illuminates at the touch of an infrared pen. Made from diffusive optical fibres, designers are able to paint an illumination pattern directly onto the material.

Developed in Japan, LightCloth’s inventors describe it as an input and output device that enables illumination, bi-directional data communication and position sensing on a soft cloth. The material gains its colourful and interactive properties from the use of diffusive optical fibres rather than standard optical fibres.

To compare the two types of fibre, a standard optical fibre is flexible and made of glass or plastic. It normally has a transparent core and is surrounded by a transparent cladding material. Light enters the fibre’s core at one end and reflects internally within the core. Light travels entirely within the fibre which acts as a conduit or waveguide from one end to the other. By contrast, a diffusive optical fibre both receives and leaks light through micro-scratches on its surface. Light that enters the fibre through the micro-scratches travels through the core of the fibre and leaks out from the ends. These micro-scratches allow the diffusive fibres to receive and transmit light signals from, for example, infrared pens or laser pointers that strike their surfaces.

Woven from diffusive optical fibres, LightCloth fabric is connected to a light-sensor array at one end and a light-emitter array at the other end. The light-sensor receives coded input from, for example, an infrared pen or laser pointer while the light-emitter provides the corresponding source of colour and illumination. Both the light-emitter array and the light-sensor array are connected to a computer which controls the illumination pattern based upon the information it receives.This material is not only colourful and interactive but also very thin, soft and flexible. Because its fibrous surface is separate from its control circuit, LightCloth is even resistant to drops of water and physical impact. This gives it tremendous potential as an interactive material for applications in fashion, furniture and the built environment.

LightCloth was designed by Sunao Hashimoto in collaboration with Ryohei Suzuki, Youichi Kamiyama, Masahiko Inami and Takea Igarashi. You can read more about Sunao Hashimoto’s work and Lightcloth here as well as watch a video about LightCloth and its use in an interactive design for a chair here.