Battlespace Tech

Squid-inspired 'invisibility stickers' provide night-vision camo

Researchers at the University of California at Irvine are working on a next-level kind of camouflage that could make soldiers effectively invisible to infrared detection.

The key to the research is the skin of squid, which are able to change colors and how they reflect light in order to blend into backgrounds and avoid prey. The team worked with a key protein squids produce, called reflectin, to create “invisibility stickers” that could be applied to clothing as needed.

“Soldiers wear uniforms with the familiar green and brown camouflage patterns to blend into foliage during the day, but under low light and at night, they’re still vulnerable to infrared detection,” team leader Alon Gorodetsky said in a news release. “We’ve developed stickers for use as a thin, flexible layer of camo with the potential to take on a pattern that will better match the soldiers’ infrared reflectance to their background and hide them from active infrared visualization.”

Gorodetsky’s used bacteria to grow reflectin and eventually applied it to a kind of tape that, because of the reflectin, could change its appearance under an infrared camera when stretched.

It’s not ready for prime time yet. Researchers still have to improve the stickers’ brightness, make sure that multiple stickers applied to a uniform react the same way at the same time, and ensure that the stickers can handle the varying wavelengths of infrared light.

But Gorodetsky thinks they could eventually produce rolls of the tape that soldiers could carry in their backpacks, apply when needed in low-light or night environments, and then discard when finished.

“We’re going after something that’s inexpensive and completely disposable,” he says. “You take out this protein-coated tape, you use it quickly to make an appropriate camouflage pattern on the fly, then you take it off and throw it away.”

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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