Two researching teams from Rice University and MIT were tasked with developing a material which could replicate the camouflaging abilities of cephalopods. Cephalopods are a class of mollusks (like squid, octopus, and cuttlefish) that possess the ability to rapidly manipulate their skin in order to change color and texture. The Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research funded the teams and their progress was recently published showing promising results.
Before I get into the details of their research, I want to show you a video demonstrating how effective cephalopods are at hiding!
As described in the video, Cephalopods are able to alter the layers of cells and reflectors in their skin to blend right into their environment. Rice University and MIT, tasked with the same end goal, approached the challenge from different directions. Rice developed an aluminum nanorod display panel which is capable of an intense color spectrum. The pixels are only a few microns wide and 40 times smaller than the best consumer display out there. Each pixel contains hundreds of nanorods that can change height and spacing from each other, yielding dozens of color options.
MIT’s approach was not in a display but in a flexible material that can change color and texture. Current passes through the electro-active elastomer material to generate a dimpled, raised texture. Minimal coloring can be generated but the spectrum is far less than that found in the Rice display. The ability to dimple also comes with the added bonus of anti-fouling characteristics. Anti-fouling measures are beneficial in removing microbial growth and debris from a surface which could have adverse effects on how well fluid flows along the surface.
The uses for this technology are endless but the most obvious is improving the stealth of our military fleet. Both projects come with benefits and drawbacks like Rice’s display having a wide color spectrum but low flexibility and MIT’s “skin” having the exact opposite. They claim revisions are in the works and that expansion in functionality is possible. If only they can merge the two together…
More info here!