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Squid Inspires New Camouflaging Materials

Jun 15, 2015 04:23 PM EDT

Squid are known as masters of disguise, and now their unique abilities are inspiring new camouflaging materials, according to a recent study.

A team of scientists from the University of Bristol has shown it is possible to create artificial skin that can be transformed at the flick of a switch, much like how squid instantaneously change their color and texture in nature.

In the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, the team describes their new design of smart materials, based on biological chromatophores, which create patterns that change and morph over time and mimic biological patterning. Chromatophores are the small, pigmented cells found in the skin of cephalopods, such as squid, which can expand and contract together to change skin color and texture.

Inspired by this camouflaging trick, the new smart material is made from an electroactive dielectric elastomer that can effectively copy the action of these biological chromatophores.

The system achieves the dynamic pattern generation by using simple local rules in the artificial chromatophore cells, so that they can sense their surroundings and manipulate their change. By modeling sets of artificial chromatophores in linear arrays of cells, the researchers explored whether the system was capable of producing a variety of patterns.

They found that it is possible to mimic complex dynamic patterning seen in real cephalopods such as the Passing Cloud display - when bands of color spread as waves across the skin in order to distract and divert predators.

"Our ultimate goal is to create artificial skin that can mimic fast acting active camouflage and be used for smart clothing such as cloaking suits and dynamic illuminated clothing," Aaron Fishman, one of the researchers, said in a statement.

"The cloaking suit could be used to blend into a variety of environments, such as in the wild. It could also be used for signaling purposes, for example search and rescue operations when people who are in danger need to stand out," he added.

The team hopes to perfect and expand this technique in order to produce more patterns in the future, which could resemble those in the natural world.

You can watch a video of the camouflaging in action here.

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