The soft materials science behind artificial muscles and active-camouflage

Katia Moskvitch, for BBC News:

To mimic these natural mechanisms, the team used “smart” electro-active polymeric materials, connected to an electric circuit.

When a voltage was applied, the materials contracted; they returned to their original shape when they were short-circuited.

“These artificial muscles can replicate the [natural] muscular action… and can have strong visual effects,” said Dr Rossiter.

“These materials, and this approach, is ideal for making smart colour-changing skins or soft devices in which fluid is pumped from one place to another.

“This could help us create a whole host of new technologies, ranging from active-camouflage and clothes that change colour and pattern, to a smart second-skin that can cool you when you are hot and keep you warm when you are cold.”

This technology is at the very earliest stages now. While the rigid, hard-shelled robots of today are somewhat crab-like, soft robots of the near future may have more in common with our cephalopod friends. (Hopefully they’ll have beaks, too.)