The idea of being “invisible” permeates all science fiction. From Wonder Woman’s plane, to Harry Potter’s cloak, to H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, being able to hide in plain sight is such an amazing possibility that it is always the other option given when someone says, “What superpower would you rather have? The ability to fly, or…” Soon we may not even have to debate that question though, because the technology used to give this robotic chameleon a real, color-changing ability might just realize that science fiction dream.
The scientists behind the robot chameleon hail from Wuhan University in China, and they’ve created a real-time light manipulation technology that can rapidly match the background color of an environment. The plates that cover the robot are designed to replicate the color-changing adaptability of a chameleon (though that is a bit of a myth.)
These “scales” are made of thin glass, and the system works using a “combination of bimetallic nanodot arrays and electrochemical bias,” which allow for “plasmonic modulation.” In other words, microscopic bits of metal arranged in a certain way have free electrons that can be manipulated with electricity to produce different kinds of light. The arrays are the reason for the chameleon’s vanishing act, and its synthetic eyes scan around for which color to produce.
The authors note that for now “the current mechanical chameleon can perform against backgrounds that have only three primary colors (red, green, and blue),” but that their “technology can also interface with a complex environment and provide a new approach for artificial active camouflage.” If other scientists could add more automation to the process, along with better machine vision systems, the researchers conclude, the robo lizard could fully merge with its surroundings.
Imagine a more advanced mechanical chameleon, covered in much tinier scales, with no limits on the colors it can replicate. It could “hide” in any environment, even a Monet painting. And lest you think that scientists aren’t huge nerds, they do mention in their study that this could lead exactly to what you have been thinking about this whole time: an invisibility cloak. One that us Muggles could use.
What would be the best use for this technology? Don’t keep your thoughts invisible, tell us in the comments below.
HT: Discover Magazine