Houston: Soon put your cell phone down on a table and watch it fade into the woodwork, thanks to a new technology.
Researchers have developed a technology that allows a material to automatically read its environment and adapt to mimic its surroundings such as changing its colour for camouflage, an advance that holds valuable defence applications.
Cunjiang Yu, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Houston and lead author of the paper, said the optoelectronic camouflage system was inspired by the skins of cephalopods.
Cephalopods are marine animals including octopuses, squid and cuttlefish, which can change colouration quickly, both for camouflage and as a form of warning.
Earlier camouflage systems didn`t automatically adapt, Yu said.
"Our device sees colour and matches it. It reads the environment using thermochromatic material," Yu added.
The prototype developed by the researchers works in black and white, with shades of gray, but Yu said it could be designed to work in the full colour spectrum.
Similarly, he said while the prototype is less than one-inch square, it can be easily scaled up for manufacturing.
The flexible skin of the device is comprised of ultrathin layers, combining semiconductor actuators, switching components and light sensors with inorganic reflectors and organic colour-changing materials in such a way to allow autonomous matching to background colouration.
The researchers described their work as including pixelated devices that include analogs to each of the key elements included in the skin of cephalopods, with two exceptions, the iridophores and central ocular organs.
While the most valuable applications would be for defence or industry, Yu said consumer applications such as toys and wearable electronics also could offer a market for such a technology.
The technology is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.