Octopus-Inspired Camouflage Robot Is A Master Of Disguise [VIDEO]

By Amir Khan on August 18, 2012 10:52 AM EDT

Octopus Robot
A new octopus-inspired robot is a master of disguise, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

A new octopus-inspired robot is a master of disguise, according to a new study, published in the journal Science. The machine, designed by researchers from Harvard University, can change colors to either blend in or stand out from its surroundings.

The robot was inspired by the camouflage techniques of octopuses and other cephalopods, and like such animals, has a soft, rubber skin and can maneuver around with great flexibility.

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"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," George Whitesides, study coauthor and researcher at Harvard University, 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 robot is covered in a network of tiny channels, and camouflages itself by having different colored dyes pumped in, which gives it the ability to quickly change its color. Hot or cold fluids can be pumped through the channels to thermally camouflage it, and fluorescent dye can be pumped, giving it the ability to glow in the dark.

Stephen Morin, study coauthor and researcher at Harvard University, said the robot can have a multitude of medical applications.

"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," he told BBC News. "And in planning for surgery or training, you can use something like this in guilt-free way."

Whitesides said that not only is the robot lightweight and flexible, but that it is inexpensive too.

"The nice thing about these systems is that their properties are very different from conventional robots. You get pretty complicated motions from pretty simple systems," he said. "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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