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Researchers Create Color-Changing Camouflage Material

Credit: Unsplash

We’re one step closer to optic camouflage.

Remember the octopus guy in Finding Dory, and how he could change color to blend in anywhere? That’s a real thing that octopi can actually do, thanks to a series of specialized muscles and pigmentation cells in their skin. By flexing those muscles in a particular way, octopi, as well as squid and cuttlefish, can blend in almost seamlessly with any seafloor surface. It’s quite an astounding ability, which is probably why a team of researchers made their own version of it.

Researchers from Rutgers University in New Jersey successfully 3D-printed their own artificial octopus muscles, complete with color-changing ability. Well, to be specific, they didn’t make a “muscle” so much as a “hydrogel.” Hydrogels are materials that stay in a single solid shape, even when submerged in water. They’re all over the place, both in natural settings and in your own body. They’re also in Jell-O, if you’d prefer a contemporary example.

The researchers printed their own smart hydrogel that contains a light-sensing smart material. When the material detects light, it contracts, and when embedded into a stretchy materials, that contraction causes a change in color, blending in with its surroundings.

“Electronic displays are everywhere and despite remarkable advances, such as becoming thinner, larger and brighter, they’re based on rigid materials, limiting the shapes they can take and how they interface with 3D surfaces,” senior author Howon Lee, assistant professor at Rutgers, said in a statement. “Our research supports a new engineering approach featuring camouflage that can be added to soft materials and create flexible, colorful displays.”

Indeed, in addition to this material’s obvious application as military camouflage, it could also be implemented in a new generation of soft robots and flexible displays. They’ve still got some tinkering to do, as the response time and durability could use some work, but maybe after they’re done with the camouflage, they could make some robotic tentacles. Then you can be a real-life Doctor Octopus!