Animals make camouflaging look easy. Some have static patterns that make them hard to spot, whereas others—such as chameleons—can change their colors and patterns at the drop of a hat. Now, researchers have developed a robot that can mimic a chameleon’s color-changing abilities and movement.
Chameleons change color by using their muscles to expand and contract tiny crystals on an upper layer of their skin. But it’s hard to replicate this technique with technology. So in the new study, scientists used a different approach: a thin liquid crystal layer that changes colors based on temperature.
The researchers stacked several layers of nanowire heaters underneath the crystal layer. The nanowire layers contained different patterns, ranging from dots to grids. Selectively heating layers creates colorful patterns that help the bot better mimic its surrounding environments.
Using information from a color sensor mounted on the bot, the “artificial chameleon skin” can change its color to match backgrounds in real time (see video, above), researchers report today in Nature Communications. The team plans to add a vision system on the bot so the artificial skin can match more than just color, but also generate patterns autonomously. With a few adjustments, such an insulating layer underneath the nanowire heaters, the scientists say color changing clothes, an asset for hunting and outdoor activities, could one day come to a store near you.