Researchers create chameleon-like artificial ‘skin’, can instantly change colour

South Korean researchers have claimed that they have developed an artificial skin-like material that can quickly adjust its colours like a chameleon to match its surroundings.

The team created the “skin” with a special ink that changes colour based on temperature and is controlled by tiny, flexible heaters. “Combined with the active control system and sensing units, the complete device chameleon model successfully retrieves the local background colour and matches its surface colour instantaneously with natural transition characteristics to be a competent option for a next-generation artificial camouflage,” the researcher said in the journal Nature Communications.

“If you wear woodland camouflage uniforms in the desert, you can be easily exposed. Changing colours and patterns actively in accordance with surroundings is key to the camouflage technology that we created,” Ko Seung-hwan, a mechanical engineering professor at Seoul National University who led the team, told Reuters.

Ko and the team demonstrated the technology – thermochromic liquid crystal (TLC) ink and vertically stacked multilayer silver nanowire heaters – using a chameleon robot with colour-detecting sensors. The skin tried to mimic whatever colours the sensors “saw” around it.

The chameleon robot crawled over red, blue and green floors, instantly changing colour to match the background. “The colour information detected by sensors is transferred to a microprocessor and then to silver nanowire heaters. Once the heaters reach a certain temperature, the thermochromic liquid crystal layer changes its colour,” Ko said.

According to researchers, the total thickness of the flexible, multi-layered artificial skin is less than a hundred micrometres – thinner than a human hair. The skin can create complex patterns by adding additional silver nanowire layers in simple shapes such as dots, lines or squares

“The flexible skin can be developed as a wearable device and used for fashion, military camouflage uniforms, the exterior of cars and buildings for aesthetic purposes, and for future display technology,” Ko said.

Their research was published in Nature Communications in August.

(With Reuters inputs)

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