Octopus-inspired colour-changing skin that can sense touch


Octopuses have truly incredible skin, capable of changing colour within a fraction of a second. Now American and Italian researchers have built artificial skin that switches hues too. Belinda Smith reports.


Octopus skin is pretty amazing stuff, and researchers have tried to emulate its colour-changing capabilities. – Alexander Rieber / EyeEm / Getty Images

It's creepy in every sense of the word. Inspired by the octopus, scientists have built a robot with colour-changing, light-emitting skin that can wriggle around like a worm while sensing its environment.

Chris Larson and colleagues at Cornell University in the US and the Italian Institute of Technology unveiled their creation in the journal Science today, and say the skin can be used for electronics that need to change shape and colour, such as display-embedded clothes.

Their secret? Hydrogel electrodes embedded in silicone.

The silicone can stretch six times its length without severing the connection between external wires and the hydrogel electrodes. And because the capacitors are layered like stacks of plates, they can also detect pressure and stretch.

As for the colour change, the normally white silicone is doped with a number of different compounds which, when electricity is passed through, emit different wavelengths of light.

For blue and yellow light, for instance, the researchers used copper and magnesium respectively.

Once they built the skin, what was left to do than pop it on a robot?

With skin on top and inflatable layers below, their triple-chamber robot humped along like a worm as the chambers inflated and deflated.

Watch its journey, and the various properties of the skin, below:


  1. http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6277/1071
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