Oc­to­pus skin in­spires ver­sa­tile new cam­ou­flage ma­te­rial

New Straits Times - - World -

MI­AMI: The oc­to­pus is a mas­ter of dis­guise be­cause it can stretch, bend and make its skin take on new shapes. In­spired by these in­tel­li­gent cephalopods, re­searchers said on Thurs­day they had in­vented a new kind of ma­te­rial that can act sim­i­larly.

United States en­gi­neers de­scribed their prod­uct, a sil­i­con­based skin with a stretch­able sur­face ca­pable of pro­grammed, three-di­men­sional tex­ture mor­ph­ing, in the jour­nal Sci­ence.

“En­gi­neers have de­vel­oped a lot of so­phis­ti­cated ways to con­trol the shape of soft, stretch­able ma­te­ri­als, but we wanted to do it in a sim­ple way that was fast, strong and easy to con­trol,” said lead au­thor James Pikul, as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing and ap­plied me­chan­ics at Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia.

“We were drawn by how suc­cess­ful cephalopods were at chang­ing their skin tex­ture, so we stud­ied and drew in­spi­ra­tion from the mus­cles that al­lowed cephalopods to con­trol their tex­ture, and im­ple­mented these ideas into a method for con­trol­ling the shape of soft, stretch­able ma­te­ri­als,” he said.

The ma­te­rial shifts shape us­ing 3-D bumps that are sim­i­lar to the papil­lae, the small pro­tu­ber­ances that oc­topi and cut­tle­fish can ex­press in a fifth of a sec­ond to cam­ou­flage them­selves.

The skin of the new ma­te­rial grows into new, pro­gram­mable shapes when air is in­flated in fi­bres em­bed­ded in its coat­ing.

Re­searchers said it might one day be used as a coat­ing for soft ro­bots to study an­i­mals in their nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ments. The ex­pand­able skin could hide and pro­tect them from at­tack. AFP

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