“[Building] a first prototype was very slow, ”explains Hwan Ko. The first step was to determine whether the robot would be modeled on a vertebrate – an animal with a backbone – or an invertebrate, such as a squid or an octopus. Since an invertebrate model could offer more freedom of movement, the team initially planned to mimic the octopus, but Hwan Ko says the idea turned out to be “too ambitious.”
After playing around with different designs and material structures, the team finally decided to tackle the simpler form of the chameleon itself. By shaping the nanowires into simple patterns consisting of dots, lines or scale shapes, they were able to create the complex effect shown in this video.
Although previous research on artificial camouflage has often been labeled for military purposes, Hwan Ko hopes their work will have a wider impact, especially in the fields of transportation, beauty and fashion. Future applications could include cars that adapt their colors to stand out, and even fabrics that change color.
“This chameleon skin, the surface, is basically a kind of display,” he says. “It can be used for flexible or expandable or flexible display.”
However, because the technology is temperature dependent, it does not perform as well in extreme cold, which can make it more difficult for the faux chameleon to achieve the full spectrum of colors.
Ramses Martinez, an assistant professor at Purdue University who also studies bio-inspired robotics, says translating other biologically inspired systems into new technologies could lead to more possibilities, including systems that help locate quake survivors earthen.