In a science lab in Seoul, a strangely awkward animal waddles across a striped platform. Its skin changes color to match each band it reaches: red to green to blue. This “chameleon” is a mechanical robot that works with technology designed to mimic the ability of God’s celebrated color-changing lizard.
Ko Seung-hwan is a mechanical engineering professor at Seoul National University in South Korea. His team researches color-changing robotics. Like many scientists before him (see Algae for Blindness), Ko took inspiration from creation—specifically color changes in chameleons. His team of researchers has created a camouflaging “skin.”
A special ink on the bot’s skin changes color in response to temperature. How? Tiny sensors relay information about surrounding colors to a computer. The computer knows the temperature required for each color. It commands tiny heaters to produce the proper temperatures to copy them.
“It’s walking around and also changing color at the same time,” Ko says of the robo-lizard. “So it’s kind of like a full, working chameleon.”
The flexible, multi-layered artificial skin is less than a hundred micrometers thick. That’s thinner than a human hair! By adding layers with simple shapes such as dots, lines, or squares, the skin can create complex patterns.
Not surprisingly, chemist Steven Morin says making a color-shifting robot was complicated. Problems included reaction time (how quickly the robot adapts to a new color) and unpredictable patterns—spots? stripes? both? The challenges make the fact that God made not only the chameleon but also every animal and insect on Earth with just His word (Hebrews 11:3) even more amazing!
Ko says creating a wearable device that can actively change its color and patterns in real time was one goal of the study. He envisions his research as working for military uniforms to help soldiers blend into their surroundings. But he also imagines uses in the fashion, automotive, architecture, and computer (display) industries.
Researchers still have work to do in the field of artificial color-changing robots. Someday, researchers hope to use the lessons of the chameleon bot to wrestle with the challenges of another color-changing creature: the octopus. This time, the engineering tasks will include the octopus’ unique movement style.
In a recent Smithsonian article, engineer Chengyi Xu expressed wonder at the design of self-camouflaging creatures. “Everything is just so sophisticated,” he says. It seems despite what science develops, God’s originals still work best.
Why? Science illustrates and often takes inspiration from creation, which recognizes God’s power and creativity, shared with His image-bearers who act as sub-creators in His world.
Pray: For eyes to see the wonder of God’s infinite creativity and glory; for researchers who work hard to build technology to better our lives.