It could be a fun party trick – put your cell phone down on a table and watch it fade into the woodwork – or part of a lifesaving technology used by industry or the military.
Researchers have developed a technology that allows a material to automatically read its environment and adapt to mimic its surroundings. The technology is described in a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cunjiang Yu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston and lead author of the paper, said the optoelectronic camouflage system was inspired by the skins of cephalopods, a class of marine animals including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish, which can change coloration quickly, both for camouflage and as a form of warning.
Earlier camouflage systems didn’t automatically adapt, he said. “Our device sees color and matches it. It reads the environment using thermochromatic material.”
The prototype developed by the researchers works in black and white, with shades of gray, but Yu said it could be designed to work in the full color spectrum. Similarly, he said while the prototype is less than one-inch square, it can be easily scaled up for manufacturing.