One of the most impressive masters of camouflage is the octopus. In the blink of an eye, these skillful cephalopods can change color and texture to blend in with their surroundings or to startle or warn potential predators. Octopus ability to morph their skin has inspired engineers at Cornell University to develop a synthetic “camouflaging skin” that has a range of potential applications.
The team of engineers collaborated with expert cephalopod biologist Roger Hanlon of the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) in Woods Hole, MA. They investigated octopus muscular morphology for controlling their dynamic camouflage, modeled the design, and developed 2D synthetic tissue that can be programmed and controlled into 3D shapes. Their 2D stretchable fiber mesh material transforms from flat sheets to 3D textures that imitate natural stone and plant shapes and camouflage into their surroundings.
Check out the synthetic skin in action below:
This development is an example of bio-inspired engineering. Bio-inspired engineering examines ways in which the structures and functions of living organisms inspire new forms and technology. In this case the team of engineers examined octopus papillae, or sections of skin that can be deformed in order to change texture. The papillae are muscular structures that do not contain skeletal support (such as the human tongue). While camouflaging, each papilla morphs from a flat 2D surface into a series of shapes until it reaches its final shape in the grand total of one fifth of a second!
To read an informative summary of the study, click this link to access the ScienceDaily article.
Pikul, J.H., S. Li, H. Bai, R.T. Hanlon, I. Cohen and R.F. Shepherd. 2017. Stretchable surfaces with programmable 3D texture morphing for synthetic camouflaging skins. Science, 358(6360): 210-214. DOI:10.1126/science.aan5627.