Adobe Scientist Cuts A Dash With LCD Shifting Dress

Adobe research scientist [Christine Dierk] showed off an interesting new project at the Adobe Max conference: Project Primrose, a dress covered with a series of liquid crystal panels that could react to movement, changing the design of the dress. Now, Adobe has released a paper showing some of the technical details of the process.

The paper is from the User Interface & Software (UIST) conference in 2022, so the examples it uses are older: it discusses a canvas and handbag. The dress uses the same technology, though, draped over a scientist rather than a frame. If you can’t access the version from UIST, [Dierk] has a free version here.

The dress uses Polymer-dispersed Liquid Crystal (PDLC) panels from the wonderfully named Shanghai HO HO Industry Co and is designed for use in windows and doors for privacy. It uses an Indium Tin oxide-coated PET film that is opaque by default but becomes transparent when a voltage difference is applied across the material.

These panels are shaped to a hexagonal shape, then wired together with flexible PCBs in a daisy chain. Interestingly, [Dierk] found that the smaller the panels were made, the lower the voltage was required to trigger them. For their canvas example, they dropped the voltage to a much safer -15V to 15V levels to trigger the two states, which is much safer for a wearable device.

The panels are also not completely transparent when triggered: the paper describes them as having a “soft ivory” look when they are overlaying a reflective material. Greyscales can also be made using Pulse Coded Modulation (PCM) to vary the panel’s transparency. Driving the panels at 3.2KHz, they created 64 shades of grey.

The main controller is a custom PCB with a Teensy 4.1 and a BlueFruit LE SPI module. The power comes from two 14.8V LiPo batteries, with converters to power the chips and switch modules so the Teensy can switch the -15 and +15V levels for the panels directly from each battery.

The array is made from modules, each with four panels connected to a controller PCB, which has several Analog Signal Device (ASD) ADG1414 chips. These receive the signals from the bus with switch registers to switch the panels individually.

Rather cleverly, [Dierk] uses the bus that daisy chains the modules together to deliver both power and the bus signal that controls the panels, using the -15 and +15V levels modulated with a 50Hz square wave to create the bus signal and power the panels at the same time. That’s a neat hack that reduces the complexity of the modules significantly.

The Teensy 4.1 controls the whole system and can use its IMU to sense movement and change the pattern accordingly. You don’t get to see the system’s electronics in the dress video, but they claim that the canvas example took just 0.58 Watts to drive, so the dress probably only needs a few watts.

It is a fascinating build (and a rather cute dress), and has a lot of potential. What would you do with this?

64 thoughts on “Adobe Scientist Cuts A Dash With LCD Shifting Dress

    1. From document:
      “Prior use of PDLC in HCI has reported operating voltages of 60V AC [ 25 ] and 100V AC[ 36], which can be considered unsafe for wearable applications. … The Primrose petal has a significantly smaller footprint, and we found +15V and -15V (30V peak-to-peak) to be sufficient.”
      You’re welcome.

  1. Very cool! but the usual “over-hype” from the crowd (like with everything in all these events these days..) is a bit much..

    Points for the high refresh rate and well made execution of the idea, would love to see stuff like this (“fashion tech”?) actually take off in the next few years.

      1. Certainly does look rather stiff, but it might be fine to wear, clearly able to fit around compound curves and while really flexible is going to be generally preferred comfort wise there are clothes out there not to mention the many varieties of armour through history that are rather stiff or even entirely unyielding in large sections but still very wearable.

        Though I doubt it is even remotely practically wearable – as if you could bend and flex more freely surely they would have demonstrated that, and surely there would be a little physical ripple in the clothing as she moves. Just having her sit down would have been sufficiently impressive.

        Really can’t see the point of this idea in general fashion – yes lets make our clothing even more complex and resource intensive to make, less comfortable, harder to clean, and probably only good for a rather short life. Now niche applications I can see for the concept – especially not really large integrated ones so the electronic parts are easy to remove to wash the garment, to move the expensive parts between multiple outfits (and repair).

    1. If the tiles were made smaller and had a colour background, it would be able to display colour images.
      I wonder if the military has put this sort of technology on planes. I think I’ve read somewhere, several years ago ow, about it being used on tanks.

    1. Sounds like military grade vehicular active camouflage technology to us. Won’t do a whole lot to hide you when you’re moving, but you’ll be damn near invisible until someone gets well within firing range.

      It’s been a near-future sci-fi concept for a while now, with the limitations being primarily power and heat. This concept seems to neatly solve both issues in a public demonstration, which means that depending upon your level of cynicism, the US military has either had this tech for 10 years, or will have it next year, assuming that the tech checks out fully.

  2. The idea in itself is sort of neat, but I would have expected at least full color LCD’s, as used in watches and such. With each lcd just a single monochrome pixel it’s kinda boring.

    1. I wanted to learn more about this talented young lady. This is an excerpt from her website:

      “ Christine Dierk is a Research Scientist at Adobe Research. She holds degrees in Computer Science (Ph.D. ’20 – UC Berkeley; B.S. ’14 – Elon University), Math (B.S. ’14 – Elon University), and New Media (D.E. ’20 – UC Berkeley). Her graduate research explored new form factors for wearable technologies, enabling novel interactions and relationships with technology on the body.
      Christine specializes in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) with interests in wearable computing, ambient displays, fabrication, and interaction design. “

      I’m excited to see what the future holds for her.

  3. I don’t see what’s so astounding about this, can she even sit down? Not that much different then sowing a couple thousand LEDs to a garment. Now if you could make something like this robust enough for field ops, it might serve a roll as camouflage.

    1. Practical fashion is not what you go to fashion shows to see. None of the things you see on a runway would be able to be worn in day-to-day life, rarely could the outfits sit down. Most of them are only barely held together for the duration of the show. Think of it more as an experimental performance

  4. My audio isn’t working, so I don’t know if they mentioned the control system in the video. Was she using tactile points embedded in the fabric on her right hip to control the pattern? Very well designed (no hand-held remote to fumble with, etc.)

    1. I think that the controls are on the back. If you watch the full video, she is reaching behind her to press something to change the mode. Presumably, the batteries are also located on her back, as she keeps facing front in the video.

    1. I expect there is a underdress worn under it that you would wash, like with chain mails they wore in the middle ages. (I wonder if there were chain mails for females, I think they had armor for queens going by paintings, but chain mails were extra heavy I think and might have been considered unsuited.)

      The rest you’d wash like a smartphone..

  5. What I would do with it ? Throw it in the trash … oops , recycle bin. Frankly she looks kinda stupid moving around with such a big smile wearing something that doesn’t look good or isn’t even that impressive. I see absolutely no practicality wearing this anywhere else but on a stage, and even then the effects are sub-par. May as well just have a projector pointing at your dress while you’re on stage and have it display much better animations/drawings with some augmented reality.

  6. This is awesome, and I can see all kinds of applications outside of the fashion industry from low speed aerodynamics to heat regulation.

    However, since its Adobe, I wonder how long it will take them to turn this into a DRM nightmare where the dress will only allow you to update its firmware or make changes to the patterns if you pay through the nose for their prohibitively expensive subscriptions.

    They are as user hostile a company as Apple or Comcast.

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