Camouflage sheet was inspired by octopus skin
Octopuses and squid are known for their abilities to blend in with their surroundings at the drop of a hat to hide from dangerous predators.
And now, scientists inspired by their impressive camouflage techniques are working on a device that could make humans just as adept at staying hidden.
Researchers at the University of Houston and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign designed this heat-sensitive sheet that quickly changes color when it detects light.
So far, it only changes from black to white and back again, which doesn't even come close to the multitude of colors an octopus's skin is capable of shifting to.
In this photo released by Tsunemi Kubodera, a researcher with Japan's National Science Museum, a giant squid is being pulled by a research team off the Ogasawara Islands, south of Tokyo, on Dec. 4, 2006. The research team, led by Kubodera, has succeeded in filming the giant squid live, possibly for the first time, at the surface as they captured it off the remote island of Chichijima, which is about 960 kilometers (600 miles) southeast of Tokyo. About seven meters (24 feet) long squid died in the process of being caught. The photo was made out of the video they filmed. (AP Photo/Tsunemi Kubodera of the National Science Museum of Japan, HO) **CREDIT MANDATORY, EDITORIAL USE ONLY**
An octopus is on display on April 24, 2013 at the State Museum of Natural History in Karlsruhe, southern Germany, to promote Baden-Wuerttemberg's 'Grosse Landesausstellung' (Great State Exhibition). From April 25 to October 27, 2013, the museum presents the show 'Bottomless - Through the Air and Under Water'. AFP PHOTO / ULI DECK / GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read ULI DECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Scuba Diver Melissa Phillip, of Houston, Texas, is shown with Caribbean Reef Squid in this underwater photograph taken while scuba diving off the Caribbean Island of Bonaire May 17, 2009. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Small squid are seen in a tank at the Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo on August 1, 2011. The aquarium loacted on the top of a building, will be reopened on August 4 following a one year renovation. AFP PHOTO / Yoshikazu TSUNO (Photo credit should read YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images)
This photo provided by the Smithsonianâs National Museum of Natural History shows museum employees examining a 24-foot female giant squid as they install it into its exhibition tank, Thursday, July 24, 2008, in Washington. The specially designed tank was later filled with a special, nontoxic, clear fluid developed by 3M Corporation that will preserve the specimen. This specimenâcaught in a fishermanâs net more than 1,000 feet below the surface off the coast of Spainâwill be one of the star attractions of the museumâs new Sant Ocean Hall when it opens to the public on Sept. 27.(AP Photo/Don Hurlbert, Smithsonianâs National Museum of Natural History)
SADO, JAPAN - MARCH 26: (CHINA OUT, SOUTH KOREA OUT) An official with the Niigata prefectural government examines a 4.35 meters long and weighed 37.7 kilograms male giant squid is seen on Ryotsu Port on March 26, 2014 in Sado, Niigata, Japan. Two giant squid were caught in shallow waters off Sado Island on March 26, bringing to six the number of the deep-sea creatures snared there this year. The specimens will be sent to a facility of the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, for further study. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
An octopus is shown in this underwater photograph taken while scuba diving Wednesday, May 28, 2008, in the Caribbean Island of Bonaire.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
An octopus changes color is shown in this underwater photograph taken while scuba diving Wednesday, May 28, 2008, in the Caribbean Island of Bonaire.(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
But it seems to be a solid step toward developing a sea creature-inspired camouflage material for human use.
One of the lead scientists on the project told the BBC their current device is more about proof of principle. "It's nothing close to being ready to deploy... It's really a beginning point, to focus on the engineering science around how you might create systems that have this type of function."
The science behind this new device is complex, but to put it simply, the magic is all in its layers.
There's a light-detecting sheet at the bottom, with a silver layer on top of that that gives the device its shiny white base. And on top of that is a sheet of diodes that heats dye located in the top layer. That dye appears to be black at low temperatures and clear at high temps. And the whole thing is mounted on a flexible base.
Someday, the researchers say they hope their method can be used to design military vehicles that can automatically camouflage themselves.
And other research in recent years has focused on providing a similar benefit for the military.
Back in 2011, BAE Systems announced the creation of ADAPTIV, a form of camouflage that can be used to trick heat-sensing technology.
According to its designers, ADAPTIV can make a CV90 light tank completely invisible to thermal sensors or even make it look like something else entirely, like a cow. Yes, a cow.
The creators of this newest device say they have a lot more work to do on the device. But one of the lead researchers told National Geographic he doubts they'll ever make something that truly acts like an octopus's skin.
"As an engineer looking at movies of squid, octopuses, and cuttlefish, you just [realize] that you're not going to get close to that level of sophistication. We tried to abstract the same principles and do the best we can with what we've got."
The research on the new color-changing device was presented this week in the journal PNAS.
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