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South Korean researchers create chameleon-like artificial ‘skin’

By Manu Park

South Korean researchers say they have developed a synthetic skin-like material that, inspired by natural organisms, can adjust its colors as fast as a chameleon to match its surroundings.

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Image: 123rf

The team, led by Seung Hwan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Seoul National University, created a “skin” with a special ink that changes color based on temperature and is controlled by small, flexible heaters.

“If you wear a wild camouflage uniform in the desert, you can easily be exposed,” Ko told Reuters. “Actively changing colors and patterns according to the environment is the key to the camouflage technology we’ve developed.”

And the team demonstrated the technology – using a robot with thermochromic liquid crystal (TLC) ink and a vertically stacked multi-layer silver nanowire heater – with color detection sensors. The skin tried to replicate whatever color the sensors saw around it.

In one video, the robot crawls on the red, blue and green floors, instantly changing colors to match the background.

“The color information found by the sensors is transmitted to the microprocessor and then to the silver nanowire heaters. Once the heaters reach a certain temperature, the thermochromic liquid crystal layer changes color.”

The total thickness of the elastic, multi-layered artificial skin is less than a hundred micrometers – thinner than human hair. By adding extra layers of silver nanowire to simple shapes such as dots, lines or squares, the skin can create complex patterns.

“Flexible skin can be developed as a wearable device and can be used for fashion, military camouflage uniforms, exterior of cars and buildings for aesthetic purposes and for future display technology.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications in August.

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