Last year, the Dancing Gumby Robot moon-walked across news headlines. Inspired by skeleton-less creatures like starfish and worms, scientists built a soft robot that can creep around tight spaces and crawl over uneven surfaces. Now, Gumby's gone camo.
Researchers led by George Whitesides and Stephen Morin at Harvard University's Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have upgraded the soft silicon robot to change color, temperature, and even glow in the dark.
Key to this bot's adaptability are the networks of micro-canals embedded in the silicon body. These veins make the difference between your shoe insert and this soft robot that can crawl around in disguise. Pressurized air through the veins dictates the robot's movement and by pumping dyed fluids through the channels, the scientists can match the robot to its surroundings. The hope, according to Morin, is to eventually enable the soft robots to move and change camouflage autonomously.
Probably unsurprisingly, Camo Gumby is funded in part by DARPA's Maximum Mobility and Manipulation (M3) program. According to the news release from DARPA, the program's efforts are centered at developing a fleet of biomimetic robots with an emphasis on cost effective innovation. From the news release, it sounds like DARPA is pretty happy with Camo Gumby, whose camouflage in both the visible and infrared (temperature) ranges all comes for under $100.