Is Comic Book Color Science Becoming a Reality?

It used to be that “cloaking devices” and changing skin colors and textures at the drop of a hat was the stuff of comic book heroes, mutant monsters, and futuristic spaceships. Well, it seems that the future has finally arrived with this latest report about the incredible research going on in adaptive color technology at the famed Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Now the same camouflage ability used by many color changing animals has been recreated using electrical energy, giving hope to closet superheroes everywhere.

Inspiration for researchers came primarily from animals in the cephalopod family which include sea critters like cuttlefish, octopus, and squid. These animals have their own biological “cloaking” device built in, making them able to change the color and the texture of their skin within seconds to avoid predators. Researchers at MIT and their collaborators have brought us closer than ever to replicating this phenomenon by developing a synthetic elastic fabric (also known as an elastomer) capable of changing color, fluorescence and texture on demand.

How does it work? By changing the electrical voltage applied to the elastomer, color, texture and fluorescence can be changed literally at the flip of a switch. This mimics the natural way that squids and other cephalopods adjust their hue. In nature, when threatened or signaling another octopus, the cephalopod will constrict, stretching out specific small balls of muscles in order to change color and skin texture. When the perceived predator is gone the muscles relax and they return to their normal tone. MIT’s synthetic elastomer operates in much the same way, causing the elastomer to constrict and release as necessary to change color and texture.

The applications for this besides fulfilling my lifelong dream of finally finishing my super suit, are mostly military at this point. The elastomer is extremely versatile, able to be put into clothes, onto ships, and other vehicles. This would solve many issues for military ground troops who may blend in when trekking across one type of terrain but stand out in another due to their mismatched camouflage. It’ll be very interesting to see the other applications that will undoubtedly come from this super cool science.

About the Author: Garie Xu

Garie Xu is the Sales Engineer of Konica Minolta Sensing Singapore Pte Ltd. Graduated from a manufacturing engineering background, he is mainly involved in sales, seminar, training and coaching in the field of light and color management. With his prior 3 years’ experience in the oil and gas industry and 2 years in Konica Minolta, he is providing solutions to the many industrial applications. He has also conducted seminars and workshops to educate the industry on instrumentation technologies and color science.