In a new brilliant piece of technology, scientists took a hint from creatures under the sea. Researchers have discovered how to take one interesting and very cool survival mechanism of the octopus and other cephalopods, and turn it into the makeshift beginnings for what could one day be a camouflage that automatically, immediately adapts to its surroundings.
A new research study published in the journal PNAS shows how this ability could be conferred into technology, for potential military use. The study was led by Cunjiang Yu, who works at the University of Houston, and John Rodgers, who works at the University of Illinois.
The researchers, inspired by cephalopods' unique ability to automatically adapt the color of their skin to their surroundings, brainstormed ways to reproduce this with man-made technology. Cephalopod's camouflage is extremely versatile. The implications of a man-made technology that was able to reproduce this camouflage would be incredible: it could drastically change the art of espionage or allow military personnel to remain hidden through battle.
The research team came up with a sheet of light-sensitive cells. The sheet is made up of squares that, when light is shining on them, can change color from black to white within a second. The sheet is small, takes a lot of power to run, and can only change colors in black and white, but it is still an impressive prototype of what could one day be an incredible technology.
"This is by no means a deployable camouflage system but it's a pretty good starting point," Rodgers says.
Cephalopods are a group of sea creatures including octopi, squid, and cuttlefish. They are characterized by their prehensile tentacles, large heads and ability to squirt ink. Many species of cephalopods are incredibly intelligent.
Cephalopod skin is made of three layers. Each layer reflects a different color: the bottom layer can produce white light; the middle layer can produce cool tones like blue and green that reflect the cephalopod's environment; and the top layer can produce colored pigments like red, orange and black.
The scientists' impressive grid uses a similar idea. The cells are made of four layers. The top layer is made of a heat-sensitive dye that can produce color when heated, and then automatically becomes black at room temperature and colorless at 47 degrees Celsius (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit).
The layer below is a piece of silver that can shine white. Below that, there is a diode that can control the top layer of dye by changing the temperature. Under that is a layer of light detector cells which, when they sense light, tell the diode to heat up and activate the dye.
The current prototype for the camouflage is small in comparison to what this could develop into. However, it remains an impressive example of biomimicry. Watch a video of what the scientists accomplished here.