National Geographic News
new color-changing robot picture

The new robot, filled with air and glowing fluid. S.A. Morin, Harvard University and Science/AAAS.

By National Geographic News staff

Published August 17, 2012

A new soft, quivering robot walks when inflated and changes color when colored fluid—including glow-in-the-dark liquid—is pumped into its "body."

The robot's high-tech camouflage could be a boon to stealth science, according to the authors of a new study published in the journal Science. (Read the robot study in Science.)




Researchers at Harvard University have made a soft, flexible robot that can actually change colors, enabling its use in places where machines shouldn't be noticed.

Here, a robot is walked onto a layer of rocks, and a dye is activated to change its color, so that it blends in to its surroundings.

The robot is made of silicon rubber. Plastic tubing connects it to a control system, and the dye is transferred through the tubes.

The robot moves as air is forced through a network of tiny channels inside the robot.

Here, the robot walks onto colored leaves. And in this case, a fluorescent dye is pumped through the robot to make it stand out, and it's easier to find.

A chemo-luminescent dye can be used to make the robot glow in the dark, similar to animals like fireflies.

The temperatures of the dyes can be changed, too, so the robot can change color in the infrared spectrum.

Some snakes, for example, can sense infrared light using specialized organs.

The robot can be adapted for use in animal-behavior research or public display situations when invisibility helps lead to the best results.

This development appears in the August 17th issue of Science magazine.

video credit: 2012 National Geographic; video courtesy: S.A. Morin, Harvard University and Science/AAAS



Popular Stories

The Future of Food

  • Why Food Matters

    Why Food Matters

    How do we feed nine billion people by 2050, and how do we do so sustainably?

  • Download: Free iPad App

    Download: Free iPad App

    We've made our magazine's best stories about the future of food available in a free iPad app.

See more food news, photos, and videos »