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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Like an octopus, flexible robot can change colors

A colored soft robot quadruped walks at approximately 40 m/h.
[S. Morin, Harvard University]

Researchers have developed a soft, flexible robot that can change colors to blend in or stand out in its environment.

The robot is a rubbery, four-limbed machine, with many tiny channels running through it. It's tethered to a control system. Forcing air through the channels makes the machine "walk."

Stephen Morin and his colleagues at Harvard University have now added a color-changing layer to the robot. The layer contains a separate set of channels that different kinds of dye can be pumped through.

Depending on the kind of dye that's used, the machine can camouflage itself, as an octopus does. Or, it can signal its presence, like a firefly. The temperatures of the dyes can be adjusted, so that the robot can also change color in the infrared spectrum. This aspect of the technology was also inspired by nature; some snakes, for example, can sense infrared light using specialized organs.

Such machines may be useful for studying animals in the wild, or for other activities using machines that aren't supposed to be noticed. The research appears in the 17 August issue of the journal Science.