Not Your Average Camouflage
When it comes to camouflaging military vehicles, standard procedure is to paint the vehicle in the appropriate colors and patterns for the environment in which it will serve.
Researchers in Australia, however, are working on a way to enable equipment like tanks to automatically change colors to blend in with their surroundings, New Atlas reported.
“The concept of color-changing tanks, able to change their camouflage pattern in real time in the battlefield to adapt to changing surroundings, is one of the holy grails of modern military deception,” Peter Murphy, of the University of South Australia (UniSA), told the technology news site.
Adjusting Color on the Go
Instead of relying on fixed, stock patterns and paints for camouflage, the working group—composed of researchers from the UniSA Future Industries Institute and scientists from Australia's Defence Science & Technology Group (DST Group)—are developing an “adaptive camouflage” technology using conducting polymers.
This concept follows the same principles employed in nature, such as the chameleon’s flexible ability to change color to blend with its environment.
According to Murphy, a very thin coating of the polymer materials can be applied to a surface and surrounded with an electrolyte. The conducting polymers and electrolyte are contained within a transparent structure called an electrochromic cell.
Applying a current makes the polymer material change colors based on the chemical structures of the conducting polymers, he explained.
Murphy says that the automatic change would be triggered through the use of cameras that would read the surroundings and then tweak the camouflage to match. The rate of change could take anywhere from one second to tens of seconds, he said, and could be adjusted to match the speed of the vehicle.
“Using this technology, the color-change pattern is determined by the coating process used to fabricate the cells,” he said. “It is highly likely that a robotic spray-coating process would be used to produce the electrochromic cells at a commercial level.”
Murphy noted that the cells make it possible to produce block color patterns, as well as more complex patterns, which has the potential to further aid in disguising the vehicles.
“Our most recent prototype cells indeed focus on producing complex patterns, with changes in color and color intensity within a cell,” he added.
At this time, Murphy indicates the team has only tested small arrays of the cells, and future plans include creating flexible cells that would be able to wrap around the corner or edge of a surface.