Chameleon-like robots can change color and blend into their surroundings

A soft robot can change color to match its background.
Nergis Firtina
Color changing soft robots
Color changing soft robots

SUSTech  

3D printing technology continues to add innovations to the scientific world day by day. The Southern University made a new development in 3D printing technology this time of Science and Technology.

Researchers succeeded in a 3D printing strategy to construct flexible and stretchable light-emitting devices that can be integrated with soft robots.

This research is demonstrated in a soft robot that can change color to match its background and may aid in developing next-generation smart displays, wearable electronics, and artificial camouflage.

The study was published in Nature Communications.

A new approach to fabricating

Producing flexible electronics consists of expensive tools and several scientific steps many times. Therefore, an easy and versatile fabrication strategy to support the increasing demand for flexible electroluminescence devices in technological and optical applications is needed.

Ji Liu and researchers display an approach to fabricating flexible electroluminescence devices through multi-material 3D printing. They formulated ion conducting, electroluminescent and insulating inks suitable for 3D printing, which they could use to create facile, on-demand, flexible, and stretchable electroluminescent devices.

With this development, Ji Liu and his colleagues integrated a flexible wristband that emits blue light into the soft robot that can change color without delay, like a chameleon.

The authors indicate the devices display stable electroluminescence even under different modes of mechanical deformation, such as bending, twisting, and stretching.

How does a chameleon change its color?

A chameleon is green when immobile, meaning it's naturally in harmony with its leafy surroundings. But male chameleons will change color when stimulated in the presence of a female or a rival male.

As a chameleon becomes more stimulated, its color becomes more yellow, orange, and red, meaning it becomes more visible rather than adapting to the color around it.

Chameleons have different cells in their skin that contain colored pigments. Some are yellow, some are red, and some include the dark pigment melanin. It is known that the cells of chameleons and many other animals turn a darker shade by secreting melanin from their fingerlike appendages. It concentrates the pigment in one spot, making it lighter again.

Study abstract:

Flexible and stretchable light emitting devices are driving innovation in myriadapplications, such as wearable and functional electronics, displays and softrobotics. However, the development of flexible electroluminescent devices and viaconventional techniques remains laborious and cost-prohibitive. Here, we report a facile and easily-accessible route for fabricating a class of flexible electroluminescent devices and soft robotics via direct ink writing-based 3Dprinting. 3D printable ion conducting, electroluminescent, and insulating dielectric inks were developed, enabling facile and on-demand creation of flexible and stretchable electroluminescent devices with good fidelity. Robust interfacial adhesion with the multilayer electroluminescent devices endowed the 3D printed devices with attractive electroluminescent performance. Integrated our 3D printed electroluminescent devices with a soft quadrupedal robot and sensing units, an artificial camouflage that can instantly self-adapt to the environment by displaying matching color was fabricated, laying an efficient framework for the next generation soft camouflages.

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