3D printed robot changes colour for disguise
Harvard University researchers have taken inspiration from nature to create a soft, silicone-based robot that can disguise itself by changing colour.
Modelled on the way creatures like starfish and squid camouflage themselves against a background, the Harvard team believes the robot could one day help doctors plan complex surgeries or act as a visual marker to help search crews following a disaster.
The researchers created moulds of the coloured layers of the robot using a 3D printer. This 'dynamic colouration' system had networks of micro-channels impressed in them so that both air and coloured fluid could be pumped through the robot when it walked over a surface, enabling it to match its environment and become less visible.
By pumping heated or cooled liquids into the micro-channels, the researchers were also able to camouflage the robots thermally.
"There is an enormous amount of spectral control we can exert," said Stephen Morin, a postdoctoral fellow of the university's department of chemistry and chemical biology. "We can design colour layers with multiple channels, which can be activated independently. We've only begun to scratch the surface, I think, of what's possible."
Just as animals use colour change to communicate, Morin envisions robots using the system as a way to signal their position, both to other robots, and to the public. As an example, he cited the possible use of the soft machines during search and rescue operations following a disaster. In dimly lit conditions, he said, a robot that stands out from its surroundings could be useful in leading rescue crews trying to locate survivors.
Going forward, Morin is hoping to explore more complex systems that use multiple colour layers to achieve finer control over camouflage and display colours, as well as ways to create systems — using valves and other controls — that would allow the robots to operate autonomously.
"There are a number of directions this technology could go in," he said. "Some of them are similar to the course we have taken thus far, but I think there are other aspects to explore – such as how the robots interact with their environment — that are related to what soft robots may be doing in the future."
This material is protected by Findlay Media copyright
See Terms and Conditions.
One-off usage is permitted but bulk copying is not.
For multiple copies contact the