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Brief Published: 22 Aug 2014

Octopus Camouflage Tech

Cephalopods such as the blue-ringed octopus inspired the technology

In the US, a team of scientists has developed a camouflage technology inspired by the adaptive skins of cephalopods, such as octopuses.

Led by Cunjiang Yu at the University of Houston and John Rogers at the University of Illinois, the team has created a flexible pixelated sheet that is able to detect light and change its pattern accordingly.

Cephalopods have three layers of skin: one for displaying warm colours, one for displaying cool colours, and one that diffuses white light in all directions. Like octopus skin, the optoelectronic camouflage consists of a colour-change element on top of a white reflective surface, an actuator and light sensor, which are all fixed to a plastic support.

The sheet is not as advanced or as swift as octopus skin as it can only change from black to white in a few seconds, but it is automatic and can transform without any external user input. The team is working towards improving the adaptive sheets by adding colour and making it more energy efficient.

It is also hoped that the sheets can be produced on a larger scale so they can be wrapped around solid objects and alter their appearance, offering potential applications for military stealth vehicles. It could even be used for fashion or interior design, though these developments won’t be possible for a while.

“You could apply these flexible sheets to any surface and create something that’s visually responsive to ambient lighting conditions,” explained Rogers, “but our goal is not to make adaptable wallpaper; it’s on the fundamentals.”

See Marine Materials for further insights into how marine biology is sparking major breakthroughs in material applications and product development. For more developments surrounding camouflage aesthetics, see Under the Radar and Trick of the Eye: Colour & Illusion.