Octopus Inspired Adaptive Camouflage Driven by Light

Researchers have developed an adaptive camouflage inspired by the natural hiding ability of cephalopods, which includes squids and octopi.  And, the researchers behind the achievement note, their system requires no external sensors, stimuli or power systems, but functions using only the power of light.


In nature, animals employ all manner of natural defense against predators, including the ability to make oneself blend in seamlessly with one’s natural surroundings. Military scientists and civilian researchers have tried to replicate such adaptive camouflage systems, with various levels of success. However, even the highest performing adaptive camouflage systems use sensors and external stimuli like electrical power to put on their disappearing act, adding significant cost and weight to any human-hiding second skin.

Hoping to somehow capture all of the advantages of the systems used by nature’s camouflage kings, the cephalopods, researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China studied the way these animals blended into their backgrounds to avoid (or aid) predation.


Published in the journal Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences, the press release announcing the university team’s material breakthrough states, “Xuesong Jiang and colleagues demonstrated the feasibility of using light-driven dynamic surface wrinkles for adaptive camouflage in a bilayer system inspired by the color-changing ability of cephalopods.”

This was achieved by employing a bilayer system, just like those employed by our slippery ocean friends. The rigid outer skin-like layer was made from polymer film, while the softer sub-layer was made from polydimethylsiloxane. This key material was then mixed with pigments that expand in response to certain light wavelengths. When the bilayer construction was wrinkled and the light hitting the faux skin was scattered, the two-layered material’s magic adaptive effect kicked in.

“The mismatch between the materials in the system in response to light resulted in the reversible formation of wrinkles,” the press release explains. “In the wrinkled state, the system strongly scattered light, and the pattern and color of the pigments were readily visible. In the smooth state, the pigmentation was no longer visible, leaving only the color of polydimethylsiloxane, which was chosen to match the background.”

“The bilayer wrinkling system toward adaptive visible camouflage is simple to configure, easy to operate, versatile, and exhibits in situ dynamic characteristics without any external sensors and extra stimuli,” the research paper also adds.


The Chinese researchers note the wide range of potential applications for their new adaptive camouflage technology, including military and engineering. However, such low cost, easy to use material could also be employed by zoologists and others who study animals like those that inspired this research, which may lead us to replicate even more of the animal kingdom’s amazing abilities

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