Robot changes color like a chameleon

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Chameleons have long fascinated humans with their ability to change color depending on their surroundings.

But the real life reptiles now have a technological rival.

Researchers from Seoul National University have developed a so-called ‘soft’ robot which can also camouflage itself.

Soft robotics uses materials more similar to biological systems instead of hard materials like metal and plastics.

As the tiny chameleon robot crawls across a striped background, its body changes to match the different colours.

This experiment was conducted by the Applied Nano and Thermal Science Lab (ANTS).

“This chameleon robot recognizes the surrounding color and changes its body color accordingly as it walks around, which enables it to camouflage very quickly and actively,” says Seung Hwan Ko, professor of ANTS at the Department of Mechanical Engineering of Seoul National University.

The technology has been developed using integrated thermochromic liquid crystal layers with vertically-stacked, patterned silver nanowire networks.

Ko believes it could have real-world applications.

“We may use this technology for development of reconnaissance robots for military use and military uniforms that change their colors in accordance with the surroundings,” he says.

“Existing military uniforms have the same color and patterns that they are not very feasible for camouflage. However, we can use this (soft robot technology) to develop very effective military uniforms that change colors and patterns based on the surrounding environments.”

The technologies could also be used to develop next-generation fashion and automobiles that can change colors and patterns.

Ko says this represents a step forward in camouflage technology.

“Most existing camouflage technologies are display-based technologies that are very expensive and not flexible. However, our technologies allow effective camouflage skin to be made very flexibly and at a very low cost. So we believe that our camouflage technology is closer to popularization and commercialization.”

Details of the research have been published in the international journal Nature.

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