Cephalopods have always been somewhat of an enigma beneath the sea. but anyone who’s been in close proximity to them by either deep sea diving or even viewing them in an aquarium will say the creatures have more than just a strange appearance and big bulging eyes. They actually have some of the best camouflaging abilities around. And now scientists at Duke University are being contracted by the US Navy to take this same principle and apply it to military camouflage making invisibility a very real possibility.
If active camouflage doesn’t seem like a real possibility just yet, just wait. The principles used by the creatures is already a topic of hot debate in the military field. Not only are cuttlefish able to change the color of their skin to match their surroundings visually in a way that puts chameleons to shame, some octopi can also move their skin into textures that make them virtually impossible to see even close up.
Many divers have reported being startled while taking excursions in the sea by suddenly finding themselves face to face with an octopus they once thought was a rock or hundreds of strands of seaweed flowing in the waves. And so the military is prepared to spend five million dollars to study the applications for use by human troops in wartime.
Unfortunately, invisibility has its share of problems. It’s difficult to make something look like nothing, but the process of making it look like something else is far easier. Rather than expecting a loud humming tank to look like a whisp of air leaving massive tracks behind and kicking up billowing smoke as it travels along, new technology for ground based troops and cavalry might have to look more into making the vehicles look like something else. But this particular study will be focusing primarily on camouflage where it’s known to work best – in the sea. Submarines, ships, and unmanned vehicles with the ability to look like something else would be able to make themselves more convincingly invisible to the eyes of enemy vessels.
Of course the technology everyone has always wanted is true invisibility for people. This technology, if Sonke Johnson who’s leading the study is correct, the cephalopods might be the next step toward making it a reality.
Stealth has figured prominently in military research spending in recent years. In 2010 Tolga Ergin researched using several million tiny bumps that projected colors on them that rendered the wearer of a suit made of them invisible. Currently the research is still ongoing, but it’s yet another example of making the armed forces of the future invisible.
In 2006, an announcement by Duke University that it could make a device vanish from microwaves wasn’t met with much excitement, but by now that same institute is now moving its research in a direction that might take us all into a very different world in only a few years. The field of stealth might be the thing that changes the world – and battlefields forever.