Researchers in California have developed a new colour-changing "smart thread" that turns fabric into a computerised display, in the latest partnership under Google's Project Jacquard.

Project Jacquard is an initiative of Google's Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group and enables conductive fibres to be woven into textiles, connecting interactive apparel wirelessly to devices, software platforms and cloud services.

The collaboration with Berkeley School of Information has created Ebb, a computerised fabric technology that researchers say could be used to create clothes or other textiles with dynamically changing colours or patterns.

The core technology of Ebb consists of conductive threads, individually coated with thermochromic paint, which heat up and gradually change colour when supplied with electricity. For the initial research project, the team at Berkeley used the smart thread to create seven different crocheted and woven fabric swatches.

Suggested applications include garments that enable the wearer to customise its colour or pattern for the day; a shirt with a slogan that updates automatically to match the wearer's Facebook status; and a striped scarf that offers real-time bus information, with the stripes fading one by one to indicate the number of minutes before the bus arrives. 

Named Ebb because "the colour change conjured images of the ebb and flow of the tides, rather than the rapid changes of traditional screen based media", the project was presented at the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, where it won a Best Paper award.

Last week workwear maker Cintas Corp became the latest company to join Project Jacquard, in a partnership that aims to produce uniforms enhanced with smart garment technology.

Google and Cintas collaborate on smart workwear

And last month a year-long partnership between Levi Strauss and Google led to the launch of what the companies claim is the world's first garment to feature Project Jacquard smart technology. The Levi's Commuter x Jacquard by Google jacket is aimed at urban cyclists and allows wearers to answer phone calls, control maps and listen to music just by touching the sleeve.

Google and Levi Strauss team up on smart jacket

Although Project Jacquard is exploring a variety of approaches to wearable computing, Ebb is not suitable for wide-scale use – although the team at Berkeley say the project has been useful "for sparking ideas and uncovering how people would think and feel about computerised clothes".