In addition to their roles in collecting data and performing dangerous reconnaissance missions, drones or unmanned aerial vehicles, are expected to perform their duties without being detected. And while UAVs have come a long way in terms of speed, maneuverability and their ability to allude radar and other tracking technologies, there is one thing that has been difficult to counter – the sky changes color.
This is why University of South Australia material scientists have been working on a range of lightweight, color-changing polymer panels designed to allow drones to match the background of the sky – on demand.
These panels are comprised of electrochromic materials, which means they change color when exposed to electricity, with different voltage levels producing varying shades. Although this technology has been used for dimming mirrors and windows on luxury cars and airliners, this application works much faster and consumes far less power.
The panels have also been designed to be less expensive, lighter and more durable with a range of rigidity to match drone sizes and specifications. According to a report on SpaceWar.com, researchers have found five or six different materials that could work, with each of the materials offering two or three distinct color options to match skies that could range from dark and cloudy to clear and blue.
Next steps are enhancing the technology with autonomous adjustment capabilities that will allow drones to automatically change color in response to their surrounding environment.
Ideally, this will lead to a drone capable of simultaneously recognizing the need to change colors, and then changing its appearance in a matter of seconds. So, for example, as it navigates a clear sky, the drone’s color would change every time it encounters a cloud – alternating between the bright blue and cloudy white backgrounds.