Imagine a world where robots creep up on you: Electric motors just a gentle whir, hard shells changing color to blend in with their surroundings. Well, there’s no need to imagine—it’s happened.


Researchers form the Guoping Wang of Wuhan University in China have created a robot that changes color with its surroundings, much like a chameleon. It uses a series of plasmonic displays to achieve the feat.

These displays are glass sheets with a series of holes in them that measure just 50 nanometers in diameter. The team added a gold coating, creating small domes of the precious metal where each hole lies, and then a smear of electrolyte gel with added silver ions was layered on top.


Varying a local electric field causes some silver ions to adhere to the gold surface, the result being a change in color. Add a sensor to the robot to detect the color of the surroundings, and the electric field can be tuned so the robot changes color with its local environment. The research is published in ACS Nano.

The robot’s color changing abilities are modest right now: It can only manage red, green or blue. But in theory if it can create the RGB palette, it can turn any color it damn well pleases. That’ll be the next version, then.

[ACS Nano via New Scientist]