Squid-inspired material could help camouflage: Results show system is capable of mimicking intricate dynamic patterns – such as passing cloud display – similar to those exhibited by cephalopods to distract or offend predators.

Scientists at the University of Bristol have successfully created artificial skin that can change form at the flick of a switch – inspired from nature’s best camouflaging master, the squid.

Researchers from the Department of Engineering Mathematics have designed a ‘smart materials system’ based on biological chromatophores (pigmented cells embedded on skin that work in tandem to change its color and texture), which is capable of creating patterns that can morph and change over time – similar to natural biological patterning.

The study was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface and provides details about the design and mathematical modeling, along with simulation and analysis of the system that generates these ‘biomimetic’ patterns.

The study describes that the artificial skin was constructed from a soft and amenable smart material known as electroactive dielectric elastomer. The latter is capable of effectively replicating the function of biological chromatophores. This is achieved via certain local rules in the cells of the artificial pigmented cells which make them capable of sensing the surroundings and manipulating their change. By specifically modeling the chromatophores in linear arrays (sheets of five to ten millimeters), researchers investigated whether their artificial system could produce various distinct patterns.

Results revealed that the system was capable of mimicking intricate dynamic patterns – such as the passing cloud display – similar to those exhibited by cephalopods to distract or offend predators.

“Our ultimate goal is to create artificial skin that can mimic fast acting active camouflage and be used for smart clothing such as cloaking suits and dynamic illuminated clothing,” envisions Aaron Fishman, Visiting Fellow in Engineering Mathematics. “The cloaking suit could be used to blend into a variety of environments, such as in the wild. It could also be used for signaling purposes, for example search and rescue operations when people who are in danger need to stand out.”

The team plans to change the system to improve propagation control in future studies. They also aim to create new patterns using more diverse local rules. The researchers will also carry out a detailed analysis of various patterns that could be achieved using alternative parameters, such as two-dimensional array systems. It is expected that such an approach could produce patterns more similar to those in the natural world.