A team of researchers from Harvard University led by George Whitesides have developed innovative, soft, silicone-based robots that have the ability to disguise themselves or change their color depending on the situation. The research team took their inspiration from creatures like starfish and squid, who naturally blend into their environment to hide from predators.

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The research was published in Science, where the science team described their biometric innovation as a ‘dynamic coloration’ system. The team’s soft robots have the ability to camouflage themselves against a background, or to make bold color displays. It is hoped that they will be able to help doctors in complex surgeries by acting as a visual marker or to help search crews following a disaster.

Speaking about Harvard’s creation, Stephen Morin, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and first author of the paper said: “When we began working on soft robots, we were inspired by soft organisms, including octopi and squid. One of the fascinating characteristics of these animals is their ability to control their appearance, and that inspired us to take this idea further and explore dynamic coloration. I think the important thing we’ve shown in this paper is that even when using simple systems — in this case we have simple, open-ended micro-channels — you can achieve a great deal in terms of your ability to camouflage an object, or to display where an object is.”

The robot’s ability to change color was achieved by using 3-D printers. Silicone was poured into  molds to create micro-channels, which were then topped with another layer of silicone. The layers were then created as a separate sheet that sits atop the soft robots or is incorporated directly into their structure. The team were then able to pump colored liquids into the channels, causing the robot to mimic the colors and patterns of its environment. However the robot can also change its temperature!

By pumping heated or cooled liquids into the channels, researchers can camouflage the robots thermally (infrared color). Other tests have seen the use of fluorescent liquids that allowed the color layers to literally glow in the dark.

Click here to watch a video of the robots in action.

+ Harvard University

via BBC News