When it comes to camouflage, we lowly humans are far behind the cephalopod. Octopus, squid, and cuttlefish have the amazing ability to change colour or texture — going from scarlet red to bone white, bumpy to smooth in just seconds. But we’re making progress. Scientists at MIT and Duke have created a new stretchy camouflage skin inspired by these creatures.
Octopus and other cephalopods hide their colours inside tiny pigment sacs in their skin. As they expand or contract their muscles, different amounts of light bounce off the pigment, creating a rainbow of possible hues.
The synthetic skin, made of stretchy polymer, works in roughly the same way. Dyes are embedded in the polymer, and when a voltage is applied, the polymer creases up. It can immediately become fluorescent red, for example, or become covered in bumps.
This very basic research could eventually have obvious applications for camouflage. Another group of researchers have created a different octopus-inspired camouflage skin that dynamically responds to light. Their skin is made out of different materials, and its overall look is more pixelated. If we could someday combine the two — seamless-looking skin and automatically response to light — we might have a shot going of toe-to-tentacle with cephalopods. [MIT, Nature Communications]
Picture: Qiming Wang