Octopus skin
glucosala / Pixabay

When you think of the military you think of a tough fighting force… You definitely don’t think of a soft, boneless octopus. However, sometimes it’s not all about strength and toughness. The octopus is known for its ability to camouflage itself and hide from predators. In fact, many believe the octopus is the best in mother nature when it comes to camouflage. So it makes sense that US Army and Air Force would want to know what allows an octopus to hide itself so effectively.

An octopus is able to change the shape of its body and adopt the same colors as many other predators. This new, more threatening appearance convinces most would-be predators to stay away.

Cornell University researchers and and octopus experts, Roger Hanlon, managed to develop an artificial octopus skin using sheets of rubber and mesh. This artificial skin inspired by the membrane an octopus uses for camouflage is able to inflate and mimic 3D shapes that you would find out and about. Rocks, potted plants, and more – the artificial membrane is very versatile.

You can understand why the US Army and Air Force would want to fund this kind of research. If they can use this octopus-inspired camouflage in operations, it could make their job a lot easier. Researcher say that they didn’t dive into their research with a predetermined application for military use. Rather, they wanted to emulate the membrane used by an octopus and then find ways that artificial membrane could be used by military forces.

How does the membrane work? Scientists have been trying to emulate a membrane like this for decades and this research seems to have finally unlocked the code. Researchers cut rings into the rubber and mesh which allows the membrane to inflate and form 3D shapes based on the cuts made. The different size of rings, the different shapes that could be formed.

This unique method allows the membrane to inflate outwards, like a balloon or a ball. However, the big discovery was that the membrane could inflate while maintaining concave regions giving the surface a truly textured and 3D appearance.

Obviously a lot more work needs to be done before this new membrane is ready for active military duty. However, researchers have made huge strides in solving a question that has been asked for decades. The octopus is the inspiration for the latest military technology and it seems we have only scratched the surface when it comes to the amazing things this little sea creature can do.