Photo: United Academics

Octopus-Inspired Camouflage

Deriving technological innovations from nature

The patterns of nature frequently inspire breakthroughs in man-made technology. One example is from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where a team created a light-responsive camouflage material mimicking the skin of an octopus.
Why an octopus? Using cells called chromatophores, cephalopods are able to alter their colour, luminosity, texture and pattern in response to changes in their environment. A layer of photosensitive skin cells can detect shifts in the light around them, allowing the animals to mimic the patterns of the ocean floor as they travel across it.

So, at the university, marine biologists and materials scientists came together to fashion a flexible paper-thin sheet containing artificial chromatophores, which changes its pattern in response to ambient light and temperature.

Currently, it is limited to producing ‘triangles, arrays of dots and random patterns’ in black and white, but the invention marks a first step towards materials that create patterns in response to those around them…