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Pentagon builds chameleon robots

by Mike Hoffman on August 28, 2012

The military wants to build a fleet of miniature ground robots to squeeze cameras into tight places for observation purposes. Scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency have built robot prototypes that change color like a chameleon to help those robots blend in.

DARPA engineers built a soft, silicone model for the prototype. The pliable material makes it more resilient than a rigid material and allows it to fit into constrained spaces.

The prototype is an early model with the robot tethered to the control system. DARPA officials said the next model will potential have more self contained hardware.

Engineers hope to improve the robot’s motion fluidity and speed, although officials said they are less worried about speed as they are flexibility.

The fluids that change color in the prototype are presently pumped in from the tether system. It takes the robot only 30 seconds to change colors and adapt to its surroundings.

Understanding the cost restraints facing the military’s declining budgets, DARPA focused on keeping the chameleon robot affordable. The silicone model does that by keeping manufacturing costs down with molds.

“DARPA is developing a suite of robots that draw inspiration from the ingenuity and efficiency of nature. For defense applications, ingenuity and efficiency are not enough—robotic systems must also be cost effective. This novel robot is a significant advance towards achieving all three goals,” said Gill Pratt, DARPA’s program manager for Maximum Mobility and Manipulation.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

blight_ August 28, 2012 at 12:20 pm

I'm kind of intrigued at the whole color-changing more than the use of silicone to squeeze through things by brute flexibility. However, it feels like DARPA is focused on something that can squeeze through space more than the color change.

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Matt August 28, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Brute flexibility… Seems like a bit of a misnomer…

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TomUK August 28, 2012 at 12:52 pm

I think it's called an oxymoron.

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blight_ August 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Well, it isn't brute /force/ because silicone is compliant, so…

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Matt August 28, 2012 at 12:48 pm

Seems like they need to work on the fluidity of motion a little bit. That sucker was groovin' and shakin' more than Mr. Presley himself!

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Riceball August 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm

Well, it is an early prototype so it's going to be far from perfect, I think it's more about showing that it can be done than anything else. Still, I do hope that they do work on it fluidity of motion, if the final production version moves like that it's going to be noticed pretty quickly, camouflage or not, because that herky jerky motion is going to catch someone's eye real quick.

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sandeep August 28, 2012 at 1:15 pm

awesome site

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Thomas L. Nielsen August 28, 2012 at 2:15 pm

It's a mobile, colour-changing blob of snot…..

RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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Nick T. August 29, 2012 at 6:53 pm

I was gonna say, KILL IT! KILL IT WITH FIRE AND SILVER!
But I think yours was better.

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Thomas L. Nielsen August 30, 2012 at 5:15 am

Thank you, kind sir :-)

BTW, has fire and silver been confirmed to work on mobile, colour-changing blobs of snot?

Regards & all,

Thomas L. Nielsen
Luxembourg

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mpower6428 August 28, 2012 at 10:01 pm

thats the stupidest thing ive ever seen.

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top dog August 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm

What the heck was that? it looked like a giant ameba!

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Kreader14 August 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm

Looks like they want to get a camera or microphone inside restricted access buildings or rooms. They could sneak this in at night when most people are gone, then have a secret microphone or camera hidden underneath a desk in a corner where nobody would find it. Most floors (carpet & tile) have solid colors anyway. It would blend in nicely, and movement wouldn't be a big deal if only moving in at night and staying in position.

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joe August 30, 2012 at 4:26 am

The 'colour change' is a bit of a misnomer as demonstrated; essentially you've just pumped an ink the same colour as background #2 into pockets on its back.
Unless you have 2,523,761 different pots of ink, this isn't going to work in a real environment – to use the octopus model you need ot be able to create overlaid patterns of different colours in fine dots or grids to create the effect of any colour or pattern of colours.

Nature -1 DARPA -0. Must try harder.

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PMI September 17, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Open up your nearest color printer and count the number of different colors it uses.

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Gio September 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Isn´t perfect, have white bapts where the ink don´t arrive . Imagine this in ……..

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hioctane October 26, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Chameleons change colour based on mood, not surroundings …

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Akhzar November 18, 2012 at 6:03 pm

As I see military exnpsees continue to push this country toward bankruptcy, I can’t help but recall David Stockman. For those who’ve forgotten (or are too young to remember) he was Saint Ronald Reagan’s first Budget Director. His mission: work twenty four hours a day, seven days a week for as long as it took to wring out every last penny of fraud, waste, and abuse from the federal budget. As I recall, he spent his first few years ensuring that not so much as a single dime of our hard-earned tax dollars would be wasted on a cup of coffee for one of those dreaded Welfare Queens. Only then did he turn his attention to the seventy percent or so of the federal budget devoured by the Pentagon. His conclusion: the Pentagon’s budget was an absolute cesspool of fraud, waste, and taxpayer abuse and it was simply impossible for anyone to even begin to address the problems. So, he resigned.This was more than twenty years ago. Seems like things have only gotten worse since then.

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Paul Dean June 20, 2014 at 5:45 am

While I don't disagree, I fail to see the relevancy to the above article. They did mention keeping costs down, which is probably why they don't just train animals to follow verbal commands and put a camera/headset on them. But you comment seems to be about waste, not camouflaged spy robots.

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