Let’s be honest, we’d all love to have the power of invisibility. Perhaps the closest living things are animals that can use active camouflage to blend into their background, the most notable of which is the humble chameleon.
However, copying the intricate biological mechanisms that allow chameleons to change color instantaneously is no easy feat, and something that has never worked particularly well – until now.
Researchers from Seoul National University have developed a soft robot chameleon that can actively change color as it moves across different backgrounds. They believe it could eventually translate into camouflage technologies on both clothes and buildings. Their results were published in Nature Communications.
You can watch the impressive color changing in action in the video below.
Video Credit: NPG Press
To develop their camouflaging robot, the researchers used thermochromic liquid crystal (TLC). This substance can exhibit distinct colors at specific temperatures, and by fine-tuning a layer of TLC to respond in different colors then altering the temperature, researchers are able to create technology that can rapidly change into a variety of colors.
TLC has been utilized before to create artificial skin that could one day be used to camouflage human wearers, but it suffered from extremely slow response times.
Alongside this, researchers must overcome more hurdles to create a functioning color-changing robot. The material needs to be robust, flexible, and have a high enough pixel density to look convincing to the eye, instead of a chequerboard of colored squares.
By incorporating a vertically stacked silver nanowire into the material, the researchers gained precise control over the temperature at different areas of the robot. Once active sensing units that fed environmental information to the robot were applied to its outside, the robot began adapting to its surroundings at an extremely fast rate, almost perfectly mimicking a real-life chameleon. Alongside this, the researchers also closely copied the way a chameleon’s skin is designed to allow for more precise color variances.
While extremely promising and exceptionally cool to look at, TLC active camouflage does suffer some drawbacks. Changing color based on temperature differences means that ambient temperature may have a large impact on the way it performs, and the researchers express a desire to work with a diverse group of data scientists to improve the speed and performance of the material. Furthermore, pixel density needs to be drastically improved to adapt to common scenes, as the environment often has fine details that block colors cannot accurately replicate.