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Surprising Science

New Biotech Mimics Squid’s Cloaking Abilities

British scientists have created artificial muscles that mimic the actual muscle of squids, helping researchers create active-camouflage clothing and smart skin to regulate our temperature. 

What’s the Latest Development?

By creating artificial muscles that mimic those of the squid, British scientists have developed a new kind of soft robotics which could allow humans to camouflage themselves while walking down a city street. Cephalopods—squid, octupuses and cuttlefish—camouflage themselves by flexing their muscles to expand small sacs of black coloration, typically when the animal is in danger, during a temperature change or when attracting a mate. Using ‘smart’ electro-active polymeric materials connected to an electric circuit, which contracted when voltage was applied, researchers were able to mimic the strong visual effect seen in cephalopods. 

What’s the Big Idea?

What comes to mind when most people think of a robot is a clunky and rigid machine made of metal. But for scientists who study biomimicry, a term coined by natural history writer Janine Benyus in 1998, soft robotics means blending together organic chemistry, soft materials science and robotics. Mimicking cephalopods could result in many useful applications, “ranging from active-camouflage and clothes that change colour and pattern, to a smart second-skin that can cool you when you are hot and keep you warm when you are cold.” Attempting to copy nature, which has had 3.8 billion years to come up with ideas, has its advantages. 

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