This Weird Shape-Shifting 3D Material Is Inspired By Octopus Skin

This Weird Shape-Shifting 3D Material Is Inspired By Octopus Skin

Scientists have created a material that mimics the characteristics of octopus skin, which could have numerous uses in materials research.

The study was led by Cornell University, and published in Science. Engineers created a stretchable surface with a programmable 3D texture, allowing it to “camouflage” just like an octopus or cuttlefish.

The material starts out flat, but can be inflated and molded into different shapes, what’s known as soft robotics. It mimics the bumps of the skin of octopuses (yes, it’s a word), which are known as papillae, and can change size to allow for some impressive camouflage capability.

“There are many complicated ways to create a texture change in a robot, but we wanted a very simple way to do it,” Rob Shepherd, a co-author on the study, said in a statement.

In their study, the team embedded small fiber-mesh spheres into silicon, which when inflated could control the shape and texture of the surface. The result is some rather freaky-looking models that change shape as they are inflated.


J.H. Pikul et al., Science (2017)

Papillae are really quite amazing, each independently controlled by the brain to change shape and appearance. They are an example of a muscular hydrostat, which is a biological structure that is made of muscle with no support from the skeleton. This allows cephalopods to blend into their surroundings.

“We were drawn by how successful cephalopods are at changing their skin texture, so we studied and drew inspiration from the muscles that allow cephalopods to control their texture, and implemented these ideas into a method for controlling the shape of soft, stretchable materials,” James Pikul, lead of the study, said in a separate statement.


J.H. Pikul et al., Science (2017)

This particular method has been called CCOARSE, or Circumferentially Constrained and Radially Stretched Elastomer. The team has a patent application for it that’s currently in the works, and they say it’s simple enough that it could easily be widely used.

For example, objects could be shipped as sheets of material that are inflated once they reach their destination. Or this technique could even be used to create sheets of rubber that are inflated into furniture. Yeah, that’s pretty awesome.