A new skin-like material inspired by how an octopus uses its body can expand and inflate into different shapes! This material can be used for “soft robotics” and have a wide variety of uses like shape-shifting wearable suits.
Researchers James Pikul and Rob Shepherd studied octopi and cuttlefish, which were common inspiration from robotocists, in how they move their bodies. "When people are making these soft robots, they tend to use the octopus as the perfect example of what we want our robots to do," Pikul told Motherboard. "They can crawl around, swim really fast, grab things, and can camouflage really well."
Together with the help from Roger Hanlon, a cephalopod biologist from the Marine Biological Laboratory, the researchers developed a material that mimics the way an octopus’ papillae or the bumps on an octopus’ skin expands and constricts to camouflage the cephalopod from predators and prey.
Together with the help from Roger Hanlon, a cephalopod biologist from the Marine Biological Laboratory, the researchers’ material is made from a fiber mesh embedded in a silicone elastomer. The fiber mesh allows the material to be shaped depending on the design, while the elastomer allows it to stretch and expand when inflated from flat sheets to 3D shapes.
The researchers said that this material can be used to make skin-tight camouflage suits, or used in vehicles. Although the current technology the researchers made can only inflate in one shape, they are planning on developing a material that can change into several shapes. Like the octopus, which has different sets of papillae, the future material would move in different shapes depending on the function.
"You can think of these like pixels on a screen. You can combine the different colours," Pikul said. "By having these multiple pixels of texture, and being able to turn them on and off from zero to 100 percent, that allows them to camouflage in a large diversity of environment. And that's what we can do, we can mimic that exactly."
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