Octopus-Inspired Camouflage: New Material Can Trick Heat-Sensing Cameras

Which animal would make the best spy? Perhaps something tiny like a beetle or something camouflaged like a chameleon? It might surprise you, but the octopus has them all beat.

Forget the animal's eight legs—their skin is the stuff of magic. It can change color, and even see light. Now, researchers inspired by their skin have made a material that can evade infrared cameras. Their results are published this week in Science.

An octopus is pictured March 6, 2018 at the Oceanopolis sea center, in Brest, western France. Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

Infrared cameras image part of the electromagnetic spectrum invisible to human eyes. Instead, we feel it as heat.

Cephalopods like octopuses, squids and cuttlefish can adjust their infrared reflectivity by expanding and contracting clusters of special cells on their skin. By changing the size of these cells, they can control how much light of different wavelengths is reflected—including light on the infrared end of the spectrum.

Researchers artificially recreated this incredible skin with wrinkled membranes, special electrodes and an infrared-reflective coating. When they applied an electric current, the membrane expanded; the more it expands, the more light of a particular wavelength is reflected.

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The team even made a squid-shaped version of the material to show off how well it could hide from an infrared camera. When they changed the device's reflectance to alter its temperature by just 35 degrees Fahrenheit, the fake squid vanished from the camera's view.

Read more: Dozens of Octopuses Crawl From the Sea in Wales in 'end of Days' Beach Scene

This material could have multiple real-world applications, from controlling building temperature to military camouflage. It's very difficult to make a camouflage device that can work well in changing environments and be used repeatedly and at low working temperatures.

Taking a leaf from the cephalopod's book, it seems, could be just what the military needs.