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Chameleons have long been a symbol of adaptation because of their ability to adjust their iridophores—a special layer of cells under the skin—to blend in with their surroundings.

In a new study published today in NatureCommunications, researchers from South Korea have created a robot chameleon capable of imitating its biological counterpart, paving the way for new artificial camouflage technology.

Using color sensors, tiny heaters made of silver nanowires, and thermochromic materials, which change color when exposed to different temperatures, the team was able to re-create multiple high-resolution skin patterns that allowed the robot to transition between colors almost instantly.

Previous ventures into artificial camouflage have often relied on microfluidic devices, which use tiny channels to control the flow of fluids inside, but this project takes a fully electric approach.

Seung Hwan Ko, a professor of thermal engineering at Seoul National University and one of the authors of the study, says the most challenging part was getting the color transition up to nature’s speed. Using the nanowire heaters, which heat up very fast, helped solve that problem: the artificial skin warmed quickly enough to change color at a similar speed to the real animal’s.

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