"Our research supports a new engineering approach featuring camouflage that can be added to soft materials and create flexible, colorful displays."
A team of engineers from Rutgers University have created a stretchy, 3D-printed material that can change color on demand — an exotic material that could lead to an entirely new type of military camouflage.
As detailed in a new study published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces this month, the smart gels were inspired by the color-changing skin of cuttlefish, octopuses and squids.
"Electronic displays are everywhere and despite remarkable advances, such as becoming thinner, larger and brighter, they’re based on rigid materials, limiting the shapes they can take and how they interface with 3D surfaces," senior author Howon Lee, assistant professor at Rutgers, said in a statement.
"Our research supports a new engineering approach featuring camouflage that can be added to soft materials and create flexible, colorful displays," he added.
Despite holding plenty of water, hydrogels can keep their shape and maintain a solid state. They're abundant in nature and can even be found inside the human body.
To create the camouflage material, the engineers incorporated a light-sensing nanomaterial inside the shape-shifting gel, turning it into a flexible, camouflage-like skin. As a result, the gel could act as an "artificial muscle" that can respond to changes in light by contracting.
The team is now looking to increase the sensitivity of their smart gel and ways to scale up production.
READ MORE: 3D-Printed Smart Gel Changes Shape When Exposed to Light [Rutgers]
More on camouflage: Researchers Invent Material That Could Create Invisibility Cloak