Creatures such as Chameleons and Cuttlefish are known to effortlessly change the colours and patterns of their skin to match their surroundings. Most Chameleons can change colour and they do this by expanding or contracting cells in their skin that contain different pigments. This allows them to blend into their surroundings by altering the colour of their skin to match the background.
However recreating that camouflaging ability on a robot would require some impressive engineering, and this is exactly what a team of South Korean researchers have been able to achieve.
Chameleons change colour by using their muscles to expand and contract tiny crystals on an upper layer of their skin. It is hard to replicate this technique with technology. So in this study the scientists used a thin liquid crystal layer that changes colours based on temperature. This was achieved by stacking several layers of nanowire heaters underneath the crystal layer. The nanowire layers contain various patterns, ranging from dots to grids. Selectively heating layers create colourful patterns that help the bot better mimic its surrounding environments.
This artificial camouflage breakthrough comes as an important development for the military. Recent developments on smart textiles for the military purpose also increases the interest towards adaptive camouflage technologies. Besides military applications, artificial camouflage receives broad attention from architecture, art and fashion, and a number of consumer products for hunting and outdoor activities. With a few adjustments, the scientists say colour changing clothes, an asset for hunting and outdoor activities, could one day come to a store near you.