Chameleon-like camouflage made for soft robot

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A real chameleonImage source, Getty Images

A soft-bodied robot that can change its colour to match its background like a chameleon has been built.

Professor Seung Hwan Ko of Seoul National University told the BBC the eventual applications of the technology would probably be as camouflage.

But he said it could also be used for "cosmetic" purposes to let clothes or buildings respond to their surroundings.

The research is published in Nature Communications.

To make the colour-changing skin of the robot, the researchers used "thermochromic liquid crystal ink" which changes colour with temperature, in combination with "silver nanowire heaters".

The resulting colour changes were fast enough to be "comparable to the physiological colour change found in animals" the researchers said.

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The robot has colour sensors underneath, and while it can respond to the surface it crosses, it can't mimic the patterns of complex backgrounds, Instead it has a range of pre-programmed patterns which help it to blend in.

But because the colour change is caused by heating and cooling the "skin", some experts have wondered about the effect that ambient temperature may have on its chameleon-like abilities.

Professor Ko said that while in the future this type of technology could be used to make military camouflage that matched its background, other applications could include active clothing worn simply for aesthetic reasons.

"You may imagine a cloth that changes its colour and patterns according to your taste or environment", he said.

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