Pentagon builds chameleon robots


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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