A team of South Korean researchers, led by Ko Seung-hwan, a mechanical engineering professor at Seoul National University, developed a "skin" using a special ink that changes color depending on temperature and is controlled by tiny, flexible heaters.
According to a new paper published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, the skin can camouflage itself and can cool or heat depending on its surroundings, potentially making future soldiers difficult to spot on thermal imaging cameras.
Ko and his colleagues used a robot with color-detecting sensors to demonstrate the technology, which includes thermochromic liquid crystal (TLC) ink and vertically stacked multilayer silver nanowire heaters. The skin tried to imitate whatever colors the sensors "saw" around it.
"If you wear woodland camouflage uniforms in desert, you can be easily exposed," Ko told Reuters. "Changing colours and patterns actively in accordance with surroundings is key to the camouflage technology that we created."
The mechanical engineer stated that one goal of the study was to create a wearable device that can actively change its color and patterns, so he took inspiration from the simple color-changing mechanism of chameleons, because existing display technology has complex structures.
The flexible, multi-layered artificial skin has a total thickness of less than a hundred micrometers, which is thinner than a human hair. The skin may form intricate patterns by adding additional silver nanowire layers in simple designs such as dots, lines, or squares.
In a video, the robot crept through red, blue, and green floors, changing color quickly to match the surroundings.
The color information detected by sensors, according to Ko, is sent to a chipset and then to silver nanowire heaters. The thermochromic liquid crystal layer changes color when the heaters reach a specified temperature.
Ko hopes that his findings may be applied not only to military uniforms to assist soldiers blend in, but also to aesthetic objectives like as fashion, automobile and building exteriors, and future display technology.
The technology isn't yet capable of detecting environmental colors. According to Defense One, their demos still needed them to manually enter the surrounding colors.
Ko and his team are planning to integrate a "micro camera" next to allow for an "autonomously working device."