The proper way to begin is by mentioning cephalopods. These ocean dwellers are the smartest of invertebrates due to their large brains. They also possess the most advanced camouflage system in the natural world. They achieve this feat thanks to their acute vision and array of specialized skin cells. Although they can detect polarized light, almost all cephalopods are colorblind.
Squids, octopuses and cuttlefish can blend with their surroundings and even communicate by keeping a keen eye on the environment and rapidly changing color. Specialized cells in their skins contain organelles called cromatophores, iridophores and leucophores. Cromatophores expand or contract to make pigments visible and create patterns while the other two reflect and scatter light. Nature has had this design working and evolving for millions of years.
Our earliest mentions of invisibility come from ancient Greek myths regarding the Cap of Hades. Sadly, such an item does not exist but we’re as sure as hell heading the right way.
Meet the adaptive optoelectronic camouflage systems with designs inspired by cephalopod skins. It was developed by researchers from the University of Houston and The University of Illinois. They’ll probably come up with a commercial name soon.
This system sees and matches color with its surroundings. It has light sensors, actuators, reflectors and organic color-changing materials in its composition and it is very thin and flexible. Right now, it can detect and project black, white and gray. Although in its infancy, its creators say this camouflage system can be improved and easily manufactured.
The way it works can be summed up easily. First, it uses photoreceptors situated on the bottom layer to read the environment. To obtain white cells it then heats the dye inside of them by using a diode. This dye is black at temperatures of up to 47 degrees Celsius but turns transparent above that value. When this happens, it reveals a thin layer of silver that reflects light, creating a bright white background.
This design’s capabilities are far inferior to that of the cuttlefish but there are materials and procedures that can be used to further improve this technology. And apart from the obvious military applications it could prove useful any situation when a material responsive to light could be used.
We’re still holding out for invisibility cloaks, though