Scientists Create A Robotic Skin That Hides Like An Octopus

Posted: Oct 14 2017, 8:54am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 14 2017, 9:02am CDT, in News | Latest Science News

 
Scientists Create a Robotic Skin that Hides Like an Octopus
A gloomy octopus

Drawing inspiration from octopus' camouflage skills, researchers have developed a programmable 3D skin

Octopuses have a unique ability. The soft-bodied animals can change their color, pattern or even texture of their skin for the purpose of camouflage and can easily blend into surrounding environments like seaweed, corals and other objects and deceive their predators.

Inspired by octopus’s skin, researchers have developed a new programmable 3D material. The material replicates the camouflaging ability of octopuses and cuttlefish and can transform itself from a normal, flat surface to a three dimensional surface with bumps and pits. The material could have implications for the manufacturing of robots and could lead to improved soft robot skin.

“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 study researcher James Pikul from University of Pennsylvania.” We were drawn by how successful cephalopods are at changing their skin texture, so we studied and drew inspiration from muscles that allow cephalopods to control their texture, and implemented these ideas into a method for controlling the shape of soft, stretchable materials.”

The robotic skin is a unique combination of materials like silicone, rubber and mesh and it can morph into different shapes around it.

"This is a classic example of bio-inspired engineering" with a range of potential applications,” Roger Hanlon, a cephalopod biologist from Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL). "That would have applications in any situation where you want to manipulate the temperature of a material.”

Octopuses and cuttlefish can inflate in one fifth of a second for camouflage. Their skin has highly sophisticated tissues called papillae. By expressing their papillae, these creatures can disrupt their body outlines and become much more difficult to locate by sight.

In soft robot prototype, researchers replaced papillae with air pockets or balloons under the skin and managed to inflate it. They mimicked stones in a river as well as a succulent plant that contains thick and fleshy parts.

“Lots of animals have papillae, but they can't extend and retract them instantaneously as octopus and cuttlefish do,” said Hanlon. “The engineers' breakthrough was to develop synthetic tissue groupings that allow programmable, 2D stretchable materials to both extend and retract a range of target 3D shapes.”

Co researcher Robert Shepherd from Cornell University considers results encouraging, but there is still a long way to go.

“We’re still very much in the exploratory phase of soft robotics.” Shepherd told Live Science. “We’re just at the beginning and we have great results. but the key is in the future, making it easier for other people to use the technology and making sure these systems are reliable.”

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