Colour-changing robots mimic chameleons
Fri, 17 Aug 2012 11:59a.m.
By Dan Satherley
Scientists at Harvard University have created rubbery robots that can change colour to match their surroundings.
They can also glow in the dark, camouflage themselves from infrared cameras and crawl on its own.
The research was published in academic journal Science.
Its creators were inspired by undersea creatures like cuttlefish, squid and octopuses.
"Conventional robotics is a pretty highly developed area, and if you look at various robots you find that most are basically built on the body plan of a mammal," scientist Prof George Whitesides told BBC News.
"Our question is: Why do you have to do that? Why not think about organisms that are soft, that might have quite different structures and ways of moving and strategies for camouflage. And the obvious place to look is underwater."
The robots are made of silicon-based polymers, and its movement is controlled by air pumps.
Its ability to change colour is down to a series of tiny tubes which dye is pumped through to match– or contrast with – its surroundings.
Possible uses for the robot include surgery and search and rescue.
"The idea is that if you have a system that can simulate muscle motion very well and a system that can transport fluid, by combining those you can fabricate that device to fit a specific surgical problem," says lead researcher Stephen Moron.
"And in planning for surgery or training, you can use something like this in guilt-free way."
Because the robots are lightweight, flexible and cheap to make, they could be useful in search and rescue.
"For that kind of application, having it be able to advertise itself, for example, in a way that stood out against the dark would be a good thing," says Prof Whitesides.
"For a mission like search and rescue, these kind of robots could in principle be throwaway. So if you took a $25,000 robot and sent it in and the building falls down, then that is a real issue.
"If you send one in which is $100 and the roof falls in, you really don't care."
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