Researchers at Cornell University successfully developed a camouflaged membrane capable of hiding just like a mimic octopus. Using sheets of rubber and mesh, they were able to create a silicone skin that changes its texture for 3D camouflage. The membrane can have military applications given its incredible ability to mimic the morphing creatures that masquerade as venomous sea serpents, sea stars, anemones and crab to confuse both predators and preys.

As reported in a study published Thursday in the journal Science, the membrane can inflate to the shapes of a variety of objects in a matter of seconds.

This is the latest creation of its kind. Before this study, researchers at Harvard University announced in August 2016 that they had invented the first autonomous soft robot that borrowed mechanisms of the octopus.

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Muscly bundles known as papillae go slack to allow octopuses to decrease the drag of water against the skin and leave the room in a hurry. Fleshy nubs appear due to contractions and the octopus’ skin bulges.

The researchers had been amazed by the mimic octopus’ skills before thinking about creating their membranes. Study author Itai Cohen, a materials expert at Cornell University, described how the creatures could perfectly hide in a coral reef and suddenly reappear by changing their colors and textures, according to a report by The Washington Post.

A video filmed by marine biologist Roger Hanlon and posted to YouTube served as an inspiration to Cohen, who started to think how to create something like that.

The team of researchers thought about the octopus’ musculature and the mechanics involved in blowing up a balloon. They came up with this idea: cutting concentric rings into a thin surface made of rubber and mesh would cause the membrane to contort when inflated. It would follow precisely the shapes of the cuts.

“The width of the concentric rings determine how much radial stretch there is in the membrane,” said lead author James Pikul of the University of Pennsylvania. “This stretch is directly related to the slope of the inflated shape, so if you know your final shape, you can calculate the slope and match the ring patterns to that slope,” he explained, as quoted by The Washington Post.

The team had their membrane mimic the shape of river stones that had been collected in Ithaca, as well as succulent with whorled leaves – scientifically known as Graptoveria amethorum. 

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Potential applications for octopus-like camouflage 

The study was funded by the Army Research Office. Although a synthetic form of cephalopod skin might obscure dangerous locations from the enemy, researcher Robert Shepherd said the team did not start the study thinking about any potential application.

This technology could also be used in camouflage robots so they can be protected from fierce attacks while studying animals in their natural habitats, as Cecilia Laschi, a professor at the Biorobotics Institute of the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy, commented in an accompanying article in the latest issue of the journal Science. She was not involved in the research.

Source: The Washington Post