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A chameleon robot camouflages itself with the background in real time

The artificial camouflage is based on study and imitate the way that living things are hidden in their environment. Both to hunt and to avoid predators, the goal is not to be detected.

Now Korean scientists present, in an article published in Nature Communications , a novel system capable of reproducing the form of concealment of one of the greatest exponents of animal camouflage: the chameleon.

According to its creators, the advance could have great implications in the development of next-generation mimetic materials, and not only in the military field.

Adaptive artificial camouflage has great applications in strategic sectors, although it is still a very incipient technology

“Until now, artificial camouflage has used very complex physics and expensive materials, such as photonic nanocrystals or 2D nanomaterials, which are difficult to expand and mass-produce,” one of the authors, Professor Seung Hwan Ko  of the University , explains to SINC.  Seoul National (South Korea), “but our approach uses a relatively simpler method ( thermochromic , where controlling the temperature induces color change) that can be scaled and controlled color more easily and cost-effectively.”A chameleon robot camouflages itself with the background in real time

The robotic chameleon with active artificial camouflage. / Seung Hwan Ko

The team has fabricated an artificial skin  for a soft chameleon robot using a multilayer structure made up of thermochromic liquid crystal plates , in turn embedded in a network of silver nanowires  that act as heaters.

Hwan Ko explains how it works: “The thermochromic glass plate changes color according to the applied temperature. We already know the temperature-color relationship, that is, what temperature we need to obtain a certain color. A  sensor located in the gut of the robot detects the color of the surface, and sends a signal to the microprocessor, which is responsible for determining the amount of voltage necessary for the thermochromic plate to reproduce a specific color range “.

Challenges for its commercialization

The researchers acknowledge that the main obstacle to commercializing this technology is that it needs to be connected to electrical current. A way to run on batteries has not yet been found.

“It is also necessary to improve the sensor, in such a way that it not only recognizes the color, but also the patterns and textures of the surface so that the camouflage is more effective,” says Hwan Ko. For this they plan to use a sensor with artificial intelligence in future research. The objective is to imitate as much as possible what the chameleon achieves. 

Artificial camouflage techniques such as this one are of great interest in the military field, since it opens the door to the development of intelligent suits capable of actively and changing with the environment.

As the authors reflect in their article, artificial camouflage is of great interest to strategic sectors such as the military , since it opens the door to the development of smart suits capable of actively and changing with the environment, not passively as before.

It could also be used in other fields, such as architecture or art, as well as for products aimed at hunting or outdoor enthusiasts.

Although the technique has yet to be perfected and advanced, “other possible applications include the active adaptation of backgrounds for aesthetic reasons in cars, clothes or even buildings,” says Hwan Ko, who concludes: “Imagine a fabric that changes color according to your environment or your tastes ”.

Reference:

Hyeonseok, Hwan Ko et al. “Biomimetic chameleon soft robot with artificial crypsis and disruptive coloration skin”. Nature Communications , 2021

Rights: Creative Commons.

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