Soft robots are coming a long way, with strong yet stretchy bodies that can survive all kinds of assaults. But it would be even better if they didn't have to survive smashing attempts at all, instead blending into their environments so neither animals nor people would even know they were there. Researchers at Harvard designed new chameleon-bots that can do exactly that.
Stephen Morin and colleagues developed four-limbed rubbery robots with special skin, which is threaded with two types of micro-channels. They're pneumatically powered, so forcing air through the tiny channels makes them walk or crawl. Another set of channels is filled with fluorescent dyes. The combination and color of dyes can give the robot interesting camouflage or display capabilities, the researchers report.
Their color, contrast, patterns, brightness and even temperature and shape can all be changed, depending on what you want the robot to do. They can blend in with their environments, display messages, light up or even glow in infrared -- that's something animals can't even do.
The robots were inspired by marine animals like the octopus and cuttlefish, which can expertly blend themselves into any environment on the fly. Those creatures and others use specialized internal cells or skin structures, like chromatophores, which enable their colorful properties. Instead of networks of individual pores, Morin and colleagues used a microfluidics approach, etching tiny canals into their elastomer animals and filling them with various dyes. The small channels don't require very much volume to make an impact, which keeps the robots lightweight.
Some dyes can be controlled with temperature, and others with light -- after they're pumped in, they don't require any power to change color, the researchers write. Morin and colleagues tested one with brilliant hues of red and blue, and made it march across a surface. They also filled one with colors matched to the robot's test environment, and noted that this version was less noticeable.
"Dynamic camouflage would be useful for applications in which soft machines must do their job without standing out," the authors write -- like perhaps soft maintenance bots, surveillance systems or even animal-interaction robots. Their results are published today in Science.
The writer of this article has a good imagination.....
The first pic shows a silcone "robot" with a marker pen rendition of what one of these "might" look like. I doubt it's functional. The bottom pic is ridiculous because you won't be able to "mix" dyes with any accuracy or clarity, unless they come in contact with each other. Then how do you change back? Capillary veining will have to be incredibly complex and complete and a dye system that doesn't exist yet running through said veins.
@templarknight - There's a video from the team at Harvard showing this in action. You can view it here: http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2012/08/soft-robots-go-for-color-camouflage/
These things are creeping and creepy.
I have the urge to stomp on them with a heavy boot.
If you stomp twice are you in fact, re-booting? ;)
mpetroff -- well, I checked out the vid. They injected dye and it turned red where they had made the dye channels.
And they applied air pressure through other channels to make it move.
Don't know enough about the potential of the camo system, but the demo didn't seem too awesome.
Don't know who originated the 'robot' tag, but I wouldn't class it as one at this point.
This version only demonstrates potential, it's not supposed to appeal to any kind of market.
With small enough capillaries, mixing dyes could conceivably work like flat screen diodes where there's only 3 actual colors (RGB). They're all distinct, but blended by the eye.
An octopus robot is still a few years off, but think of the spinoff technology that could eventually be applied to blow up dolls! They could change into furniture too, or roam your apartment while you're not home and make the place look occupied to discourage break-ins. Identify friend or foe, and change into velociraptors. That would sell.
Sweet now make a hunting suit out of it and I will burn all the gillie suits.