T-shirts that glow in the dark

T-shirts that also glow in the light

The Lumalive couch and clock combo

A sample of the fabric attached to the control unit

Windows-based software to upload new patterns
Philips shows off clothing that will literally make you glow

At CES 2007 Philips discreetly demonstrated its light-emitting fabrics, called Lumalive, that allow everyday garments or soft furnishings to light up with colorful patterns or animated displays.

Lumalive fabrics incorporate arrays of LED pixels mounted on a flexible lightweight substrate, with each pixel containing closely spaced red, green and blue LEDs. Electric conducting tracks on the plastic substrate connect these pixels into a matrix display configuration, allowing each pixel to be individually addressed and the light intensity of its three LEDs varied in order to produce any desired color. Standard Lumalive panels measure 20 cm square and contain an array of 14 x 14 pixels, spaced a little over one centimeter apart. The panels can be interlinked or scaled up to cover large areas.

Layers of translucent material covering the LEDs diffuse the light such that adjacent pixels merge into one another, allowing the display of daylight-visible colored patterns, dynamic images, short text messages or even full color animations. Cover materials with different light dispersion/diffusion characteristics can be used to create different lighting effects. In the Lumalive couch (pictured at right), for example, the cover materials have been combined with white canvas to create a textured luminance. When the LEDs are turned off, Lumalive fabrics are indistinguishable from normal fabric.

The flexibility of the substrate material in which the LEDs are embedded and the softness of the covering layers make Lumalive fabrics pliable, while the low weight of the panels (typically around 100 grams) means they add very little to the total weight of garments. As a result, clothing made of Lumalive fabrics should remain comfortable to wear.

Electrical connection to the panels is made via a waterproof connector leading to a compact control unit, measuring around 11.5 x 6.5 x 2 cm and weighing approximately 150 grams, that contains the control electronics and battery pack. Additional display driver/multiplexing circuitry built into the panel itself reduces the number of connections between the control unit and the panel to just five conductors, greatly simplifying the size and weight of the wiring harness. Based around an ARM microprocessor and 256 MB of flash memory for content storage, the control unit allows the display of animated graphics sequences of up to ten minutes duration.

Lumalive fabric solutions are supplied with Windows-based PC software that interfaces with the USB connector on the control unit, allowing for animated graphics, scrolling text messages or moving images to be uploaded. Alternatively, the unit can be connected to a GSM module, allowing pre-loaded content to be triggered via SMS messages or SMS messages to be transferred directly to the Lumalive panels.

The Li-ion battery in the control unit typically powers a single 20 cm square 14 x 14-pixel Lumalive panel for three to four hours, depending on the type of visuals displayed. In furniture, the control unit can be powered from a standard AC plug adapter and up to ten panels inter-linked to cover larger areas without the need for additional control electronics. The high-efficiency LEDs used in the entire Lumalive couch consumes the same amount of electricity as a 20W light bulb.

Lumalive panels are encased in a translucent pocket of water-resistant material, allowing them to be used in applications where the material may be subjected to rain, snow or liquid spills. For hand, machine or dry-cleaning of the fabrics, the panels and their drive electronics/batteries can be removed from garments or furniture before starting the cleaning process and straightforwardly replaced afterwards.

Philips has yet to announce pricing or retail partners for its Lumalive fabric technology.

"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007

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