A group of Cornell University researchers working with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts are making headway on camouflage technology inspired by chameleons and underwater cephalopods.
The octopus has long been studied for its ability to change shape and color, but scientists have now acquired enough knowledge to mimic the process with soft robotics. Details of their study, which was funded by the Army and Air Force, were reported Wednesday by the science magazine IEEE Spectrum.
“Protrusions called dermal papillae were the bio-inspiration behind a new elastic material that can morph into various shapes, and could provide a shape-shifting surface for soft robots,” the magazine reported. “The material consists of a fiber mesh that simulates an octopus’ erector muscles, which contract to squeeze a protrusion into shape. They embedded that mesh in concentric rings within a rubber skin, which mimics an octopus’ connective tissue.”
Robert Shepherd, the study’s co-author and an assistant professor at Cornell University, said it is conceivable that future soft robotics will look and act like the creatures.
“The model that his group created is limited by the elasticity of the rubber itself, which can only stretch so far, and the fact that they can’t change the arrangement of the fiber rings once they’re enmeshed in rubber,” IEEE Spectrum noted. “Each model can therefore only adopt one shape, rather than continuously morph like an octopus’s papillae. But Shepherd has ideas for how to make that possible, and to enable the material to change color as well.”
The full study can be found in the journal Science, although at this time it is only available to members of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).