Synthetic Chameleon Skin (Terra Futura)

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Synthetic Chameleon Skin was a material on the skin of chameleons and cephalopods that camouflaged a person with the environment. It was especially useful by the military.

(Note: The background section of this page uses most of the same words as the synthetic gecko skin page of Terra Futura to save time.)


Geckos had intrigued many people for years. They could climb walls with ease. Their fingers stuck when pressed laterally against a wall, but not sticky otherwise. Scientists puzzled on how this worked. Geckos used microscopic hairs called setae to climb walls. In 2000, the secret to seta stickiness was discovered. The setae were similar to carbon nanotubes in that they experienced the Van der Waals force. This was described by Dutch physicist Johannes Diderik Van der Waals, the namesake of the Van der Waals force, in 1873 in his book known in English as On the Continuity of the Gas and Liquid State, describing attractions and repulsions of atoms. Many people saw the chance to reverse engineer this feature of geckos. Synthetic gecko skin came into commercial use in a series of steps.

The earliest attempts to reverse engineer gecko skin used polymer-based setae. This was only a third as good as a gecko. Later attempts used carbon nanotubes. This was twice as good as a gecko. Like a gecko, these could stick fast if pressed laterally. When pulled off, the setae could pop-off one-by-one. Therefore, synthetic gecko skin could get pulled off very easily. Also, synthetic gecko skin never got dirty because the Van der Waals force did not work on smaller particles. Carbon nanotube setae, in particular, never got wet because they were hydrophobic, and thus, they could do much better on wet surfaces than polymer-based setae. Applications included stronger, reusable, waterproof bandages; gecko tape; emergency patches (carbon nanotubes only); adhesive astronaut boots; no-slip interlocking mechanical joints for robots; high-grip tires for road vehicles; and no-slip boots, gloves, and climbing gear. This was especially useful for robots.

A geckobot was a robot that could climb like a gecko. It could adhere to any surface. The first application for geckobots was as small maintenance drones. They were designed to skim over the surface of an airplane to detect problems that needed to be solved. Soon, they were actually performing maintenance themselves. In the third decade of the 21st century, gecko bots were applied to other jobs from everyday ones like window washing to specialized ones like rescue, espionage, and surveillance. These jobs were simplified. The technology was later given to humans.

With the help of nanotechnology, synthetic gecko skin was appearing in normal clothes by the mid-21st century. Gloves and boots with synthetic gecko skin were available to climbers. Soon, because of climbing accidents, a full synthetic gecko suit was being developed. The entire body except the head was covered in synthetic gecko skin both inside and out when wearing the suit. A full-head mask was used if a person decided to sleep in an upside-down bed. It turns out that architecture was revolutionized. Houses were being built with upside-down rooms. There was one problem. People had to be well-trained to use a synthetic gecko suit. A lot of coordination was needed. Many people used genetic manipulation to enhance their coordination to levels beyond any human in the past. People who had rooms in their houses that were upside-down often genetically modified their blood vessels to be like those of a giraffe to keep blood from rushing to the head. Synthetic gecko skin changed society in more ways than one. Soon, synthetic gecko skin would do more than help people climb walls. It would camouflage them.


Tech Level: 10-11

Research into camouflage began in the early 21st century. The military studied animals that could camouflage themselves like chameleons and cephalopods. In 2003, Susumu Tachi invented a camouflage system that used a camera to take a picture of the background and project it onto a cloak with an external projector. A person could not see what resulted from this without looking through the projector. This never became popular. By the mid-21st century, however, camouflage was being used on the battlefield. Scientists invented artificial chromatophores that change the color of a synthetic chameleon suit to match the environment. During World War III, this was important because espionage required that no one saw the spy performing the mission. Yes, espionage was no longer anything like James Bond. Not only that, but synthetic chameleon skin was combined with synthetic gecko skin to increase the illusion. Synthetic chameleon skin served its purpose during World War III. After that, it was used in surveillance. This was controversial because people were caught off-guard. However, by the late 21st century, synthetic chameleon skin was being replaced by metamaterials. True invisibility was born.

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