There has been some confusion about what, exactly, a fur fabric display is. Philips Electronics filed a patent application with the simple title "Fabric Display," though some science blogs and magazines have referred to it as "furry television." At its most basic level, this fur fabric display relies on a very simple technology. Patches of fur cover an image, and when the fur moves, it reveals the image underneath. It's a simple way to conceal and reveal designs.
The fabric display has three layers. The bottom layer is conductive, which means it can carry electricity from a power source -- like a small battery pack -- to the rest of the fabric to create an electrostatic field across the fur, which gives each strand of fur the same electrical charge.
The next layer in a fur fabric display is the fabric's base color or design. This could be a company logo, a picture or just a particular color. The furry display doesn't change the design on the cloth; it just hides or reveals portions of the design at a given time.
The third layer is the fur. It can be any color, but it must be short enough so that when the user turns on the electrostatic field, the strands stand on end and reveal the design or color of the fabric underneath. For example, in a simple fur fabric display, you could use red fur to cover a blue shirt. When you turn on the power for the conductive layer, the red fur would stand on end, revealing the blue shirt underneath. To a distant observer, it would appear that the shirt had just magically changed colors.
The patent application refers to each small, visible section of the base fabric as a "pixel," which may be why some articles refer to the display as furry television. While it might be possible to approximate primitive animation techniques by printing one image across the fur layer and a slightly adjusted image on the fabric underneath, it's not quite the same as watching television on someone's jacket.
In the next section, we'll learn how some designers use a different form of energy to create fabric displays: heat.