Colour-changing robot inspired by octopus

The cephalopod’s impressive camouflage led scientists to create a rubbery new robot.

Octopuses are known for having one of the most superior camouflage mechanisms out of all the creatures in the animal kingdom. Researchers at Harvard University have been inspired by this cephalopod’s technique to develop their own rubbery, four-limbed robot, complete with colour-changing channels through which different kinds of dye can be pumped.

“I came across a wonderful video of a squid changing colors on the web,” says Steve Morin, lead authour of the paper. ”They are truly fascinating and inspiring animals. We asked if we could replicate some of the functions of the squid — or simpler animals with simpler strategies for camouflage — with these robotic systems.”

The devices use tiny channels imbedded inside the silicone rubber to move and change colour.  For movement, specially designed channels are pressurised and inflated with air; for color-change, a second system of channels is filled with temperature-controlled coloured solutions. The two systems can be operated independently.

“Practically, we imagine these devices will be useful in surgical simulation, training and planning,” Morin explains. “We have a system that combines muscle-like movement with fluid vessels. Devices could be made to look, feel, and act like organs. (For example), if a practicing surgeon cut into the wrong place the device could bleed.”

Morin and his team also expect that the coloured layers could be applicable to soft machine location, especially in the dark or in cluttered environments — during a search and rescue mission, for instance, a robot could find something and indicate its location by displaying bright colours. The researchers are planning to continue to work in the field of soft robotics and will create robots of different shapes, sizes, capabilities, and construction suited for specific functions and tasks.

 

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