Hiding in plain sight.
Hiding in plain sight. Theasereje/CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses and cuttlefish can make themselves look like a lump of sand or swaying seaweed, and switch back and forth in the blink of eye, with their unique ability to alter both the color and texture of their skin. They’re among nature’s very best hiders. And soon enough we might be able to make soft robots that can do the same thing thanks to a breakthrough in synthetic octopus skin.

According to Live Science, researchers are currently working on a robotic skin that would be able to mimic the octopus’ incredible 3-D camouflage ability. Researchers from Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania, funded by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office, are working on a design that would allow their high-tech material to change its texture in a flash. Kind of like this:

Changing colors is impressive enough, but what really sets these cephalopods apart as masters of disguise is their control over the bumpy papillae in their skin—from bumpy to smooth and back in a flash. To mimic these mimics, the scientists have created a silicone and fiber mesh skin that will have a series of air pockets that can be inflated to produce various shapes. Even better, they are designing it to be created with relatively simple parts so that it can be used in academia, in industrial applications, and even for personal use.

While they still have a ways to go before the technology is perfected, the hope is that one day it could be fine tuned enough to be programmed to automatically take the shape of any environment or texture it scans. The future may belong to invisible octopus people.