Inspired by the way a chameleon changes its colour to disguise itself; scientists in Poland want to replace traditional camouflage paint with thousands of electrochromic plates that will continuously change colour to blend with its surroundings. The first PL-01 concept tank prototype will be tested within a few years, with scientists predicting that a similar technology could even be woven into the fabric of a soldiers' clothing making them virtually invisible to the naked eye. Matthew Stock reports.
This is the PL-01 concept tank. It's a Polish-designed stealth tank inspired by the chameleon's ability to mimic its surroundings by changing its skin colour. Scientists want to replace traditional camouflage paint with thousands of electrochromic plates that continuously change colour to blend in with the environment. They aim to make the plates into a pliable, chameleon-like skin that can be easily applied to a vehicle, or even woven into the fabric of soldier's clothing. Project leader Professor Adam Januszko, (pron. yann-ush-ko) from the Military Institute of Technical Engineering, says the first challenge is getting each pixel to adapt continuously to its surroundings. (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) CHAMELEON CAMOUFLAGE PROJECT MANAGER, PROFESSOR ADAM JANUSZKO, SAYING: "Every military element must be protected against detection, so that is the role of the "Chameleon", but when it comes to application and the activity of soldiers in different environments, it is crucial that every movement of a soldier from one point to the other has guaranteed effective camouflage, because then the vehicle will not need to be repainted and it will only adapt to the real environment it will be operating in." Shown here in laboratory tests, a camera records the surroundings, while a computer analyses them and sends data to change the colour of the electrochromatic plate. The technology used by the Chameleon system is already established, but until now the colour changes have only been visible using an infrared camera. Chameleon is still at an early stage, with just a few prototype plates already built. But Januszko says its Polish patent is the first of its kind in the world. The team is working towards an active system that adapts so quickly it could mask even moving objects, making them virtually invisible. (SOUNDBITE) (Polish) CHAMELEON CAMOUFLAGE PROJECT MANAGER, ADAM JANUSZKO, SAYING: "If we are able to achieve colour changing times in milliseconds we can try to follow the movement of the vehicle in the field with a picture from its background on its surface screen. But the technologies that we are currently working with don't yet give such a possibility." Experiments are ongoing, but scientists anticipate that the first functional prototype 'Chameleon tank' will be ready within a few years.