Space technology developed for observing the Earth is now being used to recognise and compare colour variations in dyed fabrics. 

Developed by the Italian University of Como, working in conjunction with Italian company D'Appolonia (part of ESA's Technology Transfer Programme's network), and a group of local fabric dyeing companies in northern Italy, the optical camera system works by checking a line across the material and measuring the spectrum of several areas along this line.

This scans the fabric as it moves along the production chain at production speeds of up to 100 metres per minute, distinguishing colours, spotting mistakes in the dyeing and even identifying changes in colour shades.

To reduce any complex maintenance the system is designed to be mechanically fairly simple with no complicated scanning mechanisms: it is the fabric that moves under the fixed eye of the scanner.

The project is now receiving financial support from the European Commission under its CRAFT initiative.

Last year five of the Coltex machines were sold to textile companies in Italy. An additional five machines are now scheduled for production in 2005, three for Italian companies and two for non-Italian textile manufacturers.

A Coltex machine has also been installed at the showroom of CITEVE, the Technological Centre for the textile and garment industries of Portugal, in Vila Nova de Famalicão in the Costa Verde region, where many Portuguese textile companies are situated.