By Kalwinder Kaur
A research team led by George Whitesides, the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor, has succeeded in innovating soft, silicone-based robots that can camouflage themselves or stand out from their environment. Scientists are making efforts to make the robots capable enough to disguise themselves.
A nature-inspired system was developed by the researchers. Based on this system, soft robots can either create bold color displays or camouflage themselves against an environmental setting. This phenomenon was explained in a paper published in Science dated August 16. The paper’s first author, Stephen Morin stated that the development of "dynamic coloration" system will support a wide range of applications such as acting as a visual marker for searching crews during disaster, and enabling doctors in charting complex surgeries.
Similar to soft robots, the "color layers" of camouflage start as molds developed based on 3D printers. Micro-channels result by pouring silicone within molds. These channels are then covered atop by another layer of silicone. The layers can be made to form a separate sheet that are placed over the soft robots, or built within their structure. The channels are then filled with colored liquids, thereby enabling the robot to mimic the patterns and colors of the background. The camouflage capabilities of the system are not restricted to visible colors. The researchers can therefore camouflage the robots thermally (infrared color) by injecting the channels with heated or cooled liquids. Fluorescent liquids that give radiance to color layers were used for other tests.
This color-layer technology ensures several applications such as for robots signal-assisted navigation, using soft machines for search and rescue operations, in addition to camouflage uses.