Active camouflage
Active camouflage or adaptive camouflage, is a group of camouflage
Camouflage is a method of concealment that allows an otherwise visible animal, military vehicle, or other object to remain unnoticed, by blending with its environment. Examples include a leopard's spotted coat, the battledress of a modern soldier and a leaf-mimic butterfly...

 technologies which allow an object to blend into its surroundings by use of panels or coatings capable of altering their appearance, color, luminance and reflective properties. Active camouflage has the capacity to provide perfect concealment from visual detection.


Active camouflage provides concealment in two important ways: firstly, it makes the camouflaged object appear not merely similar to its surroundings, but effectively invisible through the use of mimicry; secondly, active camouflage changes the appearance of the object as changes occur in the background. Ideally, active camouflage mimics nearby objects as well as objects as distant as the horizon.

Active camouflage has its origins in the diffused lighting camouflage first tested on Canadian Navy
Canadian Forces Maritime Command
The Royal Canadian Navy , is the naval force of Canada. The RCN is one of three environmental commands within the unified Canadian Forces. Operating 33 warships and several auxiliary vessels, the Royal Canadian Navy consists of 8,500 Regular Force and 5,100 Primary Reserve sailors, supported by...

 corvettes during World War II, and later in the armed forces of the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Current systems began with a United States Air Force
United States Air Force
The United States Air Force is the aerial warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the American uniformed services. Initially part of the United States Army, the USAF was formed as a separate branch of the military on September 18, 1947 under the National Security Act of...

 program which placed low-intensity blue lights on aircraft. As night skies are not pitch black, a 100 percent black-colored aircraft might be rendered visible. By emitting a small amount of blue light, the aircraft blends more effectively into the night sky.

Active camouflage is rumored to have taken a new turn with the development of the Boeing Bird of Prey, which apparently took the technology further. (The Bird of Prey was a black project
Black project
In the United States and United Kingdom, a black project is in the vernacular a classified military/defense project, unacknowledged publicly by the government, military personnel, and defense contractors. Examples of U.S...

 and available data is limited.)

Active camouflage is poised to develop at a rapid pace with the development of organic light-emitting diode
Organic light-emitting diode
An OLED is a light-emitting diode in which the emissive electroluminescent layer is a film of organic compounds which emit light in response to an electric current. This layer of organic semiconductor material is situated between two electrodes...

s (OLEDs) and other technologies which allow for images to be projected onto irregularly-shaped surfaces. With the addition of a camera, an object may not be made completely invisible
Invisibility is the state of an object that cannot be seen. An object in this state is said to be invisible . The term is usually used as a fantasy/science fiction term, where objects are literally made unseeable by magical or technological means; however, its effects can also be seen in the real...

, but may in theory mimic enough of its surrounding background to avoid detection by the human eye as well as optical sensors. As motion may still be noticeable, an object might not be rendered undetectable under this circumstance but potentially more difficult to hit. This has been demonstrated with videos of "wearable" displays where the camera could see "through" the wearer. This usually requires knowledge of the relative positions of the observer(s) and the concealed object.

University of Tokyo

Outside fiction, the concept exists only in theory and in proof-of-concept prototypes, although many experts consider it technologically feasible. In 2003 three professors at University of Tokyo
University of Tokyo
, abbreviated as , is a major research university located in Tokyo, Japan. The University has 10 faculties with a total of around 30,000 students, 2,100 of whom are foreign. Its five campuses are in Hongō, Komaba, Kashiwa, Shirokane and Nakano. It is considered to be the most prestigious university...

 — Susumu Tachi
Susumu Tachi
Susumu Tachi is currently a professor of Graduate School of Media Design at Keio University and Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo.Dr. Tachi received the B.E., M.S., and Ph.D...

, Masahiko Inami and Naoki Kawakami — created a prototypical camouflage system in which a video camera takes a shot of the background and displays it on a cloth using an external projector. The same year Time magazine named it the coolest invention of 2003. With flexible electronics
Flexible electronics
Flexible electronics, also known as flex circuits, is a technology for assembling electronic circuits by mounting electronic devices on flexible plastic substrates, such as polyimide, PEEK or transparent conductive polyester film. Additionally, flex circuits can be screen printed silver circuits on...

 such as a flexible liquid crystal display
Liquid crystal display
A liquid crystal display is a flat panel display, electronic visual display, or video display that uses the light modulating properties of liquid crystals . LCs do not emit light directly....

 that would permit display of the background image by the material itself, this form of optical camouflage may closely resemble its fictional counterparts..

UC Berkeley

In 2008, the University of California at Berkeley and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory , is a U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory conducting unclassified scientific research. It is located on the grounds of the University of California, Berkeley, in the Berkeley Hills above the central campus...

 announced the creation of a metamaterial
Metamaterials are artificial materials engineered to have properties that may not be found in nature. Metamaterials usually gain their properties from structure rather than composition, using small inhomogeneities to create effective macroscopic behavior....

 which has a negative refraction index; that is, light doesn't reflect or refract on it. Instead, light bends around the object. It currently works only on microwave frequencies but is expected to work on the visible spectrum
Visible spectrum
The visible spectrum is the portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is visible to the human eye. Electromagnetic radiation in this range of wavelengths is called visible light or simply light. A typical human eye will respond to wavelengths from about 390 to 750 nm. In terms of...

 as the materials are made smaller. The technology is being funded by the US military.


Phased array optics
Phased array optics
Phased array optics is the technology of controlling the phase of light waves transmitting or reflecting from a two-dimensional surface by means of adjustable surface elements. It is the optical analog of phased array radar...

 (PAO) provides an implementation of optical camouflage. Instead of producing a two dimensional image of background scenery on an object, PAO would use computational holography
Computer generated holography
Computer Generated Holography is the method of digitally generating holographic interference patterns. A holographic image can be generated e.g...

 to produce a three dimensional hologram of background scenery on an object to be concealed. Unlike a two dimensional image, the holographic image would appear to be the actual scenery behind the object independent of viewer distance or view angle.

In fiction

The active camouflage suit by name is credited to science fiction author Philip K. Dick
Philip K. Dick
Philip Kindred Dick was an American novelist, short story writer and essayist whose published work is almost entirely in the science fiction genre. Dick explored sociological, political and metaphysical themes in novels dominated by monopolistic corporations, authoritarian governments and altered...

 in his 1974 novel A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly
A Scanner Darkly is a BSFA Award winning 1977 science fiction novel by American writer Philip K. Dick. The semi-autobiographical story is set in a dystopian Orange County, California, in the then-future of June 1994...

. Worn by the narcotics double agent
Double agent
A double agent, commonly abbreviated referral of double secret agent, is a counterintelligence term used to designate an employee of a secret service or organization, whose primary aim is to spy on the target organization, but who in fact is a member of that same target organization oneself. They...

 Bob Arctor/Fred, the "scramble suit" is described as a flexible sheath covering the body of the wearer with a reflective/refractive coating
Coating is a covering that is applied to the surface of an object, usually referred to as the substrate. In many cases coatings are applied to improve surface properties of the substrate, such as appearance, adhesion, wetability, corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and scratch resistance...

 on the inside surface that transfers the camouflaging pattern — projected by a holographic lens
Lens (optics)
A lens is an optical device with perfect or approximate axial symmetry which transmits and refracts light, converging or diverging the beam. A simple lens consists of a single optical element...

 mounted on the wearer's head — onto the outside surface of the sheath.

Dick's invention has been copied many times in novels, films and video games to become a standard device in science fiction. Examples appear in the Artemis Fowl
Artemis Fowl (series)
Artemis Fowl is a series of fantasy novels written by Irish author Eoin Colfer and all the books are best sellers, starring the teenage criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl II. The author summed up the series as: "Die Hard with fairies." There are seven novels in the series; the first was published in...

 books as cam-foil and cham-pods, the Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger is an Austrian-American former professional bodybuilder, actor, businessman, investor, and politician. Schwarzenegger served as the 38th Governor of California from 2003 until 2011....

 film Predator
Predator (film)
Predator is a 1987 American science fiction action film directed by John McTiernan, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Jesse Ventura, and Kevin Peter Hall. It was distributed by 20th Century Fox....

, the James Bond
James Bond
James Bond, code name 007, is a fictional character created in 1953 by writer Ian Fleming, who featured him in twelve novels and two short story collections. There have been a six other authors who wrote authorised Bond novels or novelizations after Fleming's death in 1964: Kingsley Amis,...

 film Die Another Day
Die Another Day
Die Another Day is the 20th spy film in the James Bond series, and the fourth and last film to star Pierce Brosnan as the fictional MI6 agent James Bond; it is also the last Bond film of the original timeline with the series being rebooted with Casino Royale...

, the Doom and Metal Gear Solid
Metal Gear Solid
is a videogame by Hideo Kojima. The game was developed by Konami Computer Entertainment Japan and first published by Konami in 1998 for the PlayStation video game console. It is the sequel to Kojimas early MSX2 computer games Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake...

video game series, the MMOFPS game PlanetSide
PlanetSide is a massively-multiplayer online first-person-shooter computer game published by Sony Online Entertainment and released on May 20, 2003....

, the Halo
Halo (video game series)
Halo is a multi-million dollar science fiction video game franchise created by Bungie and now managed by 343 Industries and owned by Microsoft Studios. The series centers on an interstellar war between humanity and a theocratic alliance of aliens known as the Covenant...

video game series, the Super Smash Brothers game series, the Crysis
Crysis is a science fiction first-person shooter video game developed by Crytek , published by Electronic Arts for Microsoft Windows, and released in November 2007. It is the first game of a trilogy. A separate game entitled Crysis Warhead was released on September 12, 2008, and follows similar...

nanosuit, and within Japanese Anime Manga
Manga is the Japanese word for "comics" and consists of comics and print cartoons . In the West, the term "manga" has been appropriated to refer specifically to comics created in Japan, or by Japanese authors, in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 19th...

 series like Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell
is a Japanese multimedia franchise composed of manga, animated films, anime series, video games and novels. It focuses on the activities of the counter-terrorist organization Public Security Section 9 in a futuristic, cyberpunk Japan ....

and Gantz
is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Hiroya Oku. Gantz tells the story of Kei Kurono and his friend Masaru Kato who die in a train accident and become part of a semi-posthumous "game" in which they and several other recently deceased people are forced to hunt down and kill aliens...

— cited as the inspiration for Tokyo University experiments into optical camouflage. A similar cloaking device
Cloaking device
Cloaking devices are advanced stealth technologies still in development that will cause objects, such as spaceships or individuals, to be partially or wholly invisible to parts of the electromagnetic spectrum...

 is found in Star Trek
Star Trek
Star Trek is an American science fiction entertainment franchise created by Gene Roddenberry. The core of Star Trek is its six television series: The Original Series, The Animated Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise...

, however this example does not achieve active camouflage in the same way. Active camouflage is also used by the Spy class in Team Fortress 2. An invisibility device is used by the Helghast Scouts in the Killzone
Killzone is a first-person shooter exclusive to the PlayStation 2 game console, developed by Netherlands-based Guerrilla Games and released on November 2, 2004 in North America. A sequel, Killzone: Liberation was released on the PlayStation Portable and another followup, Killzone 2 was released for...

series, similar to the Predator camoflauge.

The "thermoptic camouflage" of Ghost in the Shell
Ghost in the Shell
is a Japanese multimedia franchise composed of manga, animated films, anime series, video games and novels. It focuses on the activities of the counter-terrorist organization Public Security Section 9 in a futuristic, cyberpunk Japan ....

offers concealment in both the visible light and infrared spectra. It flickers or ceases to function upon contact with water or high humidity, or a harsh physical impact.

In the video game "Ace Combat X: Skies of Deception", Leasath forces use optical camouflage on the Gleipnir bomber and the advanced Fenrir fighter aircraft.

In the video game series Halo
Halo (video game series)
Halo is a multi-million dollar science fiction video game franchise created by Bungie and now managed by 343 Industries and owned by Microsoft Studios. The series centers on an interstellar war between humanity and a theocratic alliance of aliens known as the Covenant...

, active camouflage is a power-up that can be obtained. Certain variants of the game's alien race of Elites use this as well and are almost invisible, appearing as faint disturbances in the air where armor bends significantly that are difficult to detect.

Active camouflage is also used by the spies in the multiplayer modes of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, making them harder to spot; however, it had a very limited power supply, making the suit only work for fifteen seconds, and contact with water will also short the system out.

The video game Red Faction: Guerilla has a stealth "backpack" which when used conceals the players character, except for a faint outline at close range. It can only remain active for a short while, before needing to recharge.

Active camouflage also appears in the video game Deus Ex: Human Revolution where it is called the Glass Shield Cloaking System, it also has a limited battery supply and when fully upgraded can only be used for seven seconds per energy bar, of which there are five.

Active camouflage, referred to as a "ruthenium polymer coating", is available to a variety of upgradeable vehicles, suits of armor, and weapons in the tabletop role-playing game Shadowrun
Shadowrun is a role-playing game set in a near-future fictional universe in which cybernetics, magic and fantasy creatures co-exist. It combines genres of cyberpunk, urban fantasy and crime, with occasional elements of conspiracy fiction, horror, and detective fiction.The original game has spawned...


The trailer of the upcoming video game Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Future Soldier shows four Special Ops Soldiers taking out two tanks with shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, before they turn on an active camouflage and vanish.

An additional fictional example of active camouflage in animals is the Gila-Munga, a race of extraterrestrial assassins appearing in Judge Dredd
Judge Dredd
Judge Joseph Dredd is a comics character whose strip in the British science fiction anthology 2000 AD is the magazine's longest running . Dredd is an American law enforcement officer in a violent city of the future where uniformed Judges combine the powers of police, judge, jury and executioner...

, a story serialized in the weekly British comic book anthology 2000 AD
2000 AD (comic)
2000 AD is a weekly British science fiction-oriented comic. As a comics anthology it serialises a number of separate stories each issue and was first published by IPC Magazines in 1977, the first issue dated 26 February. IPC then shifted the title to its Fleetway comics subsidiary which was sold...


In animals

Active camouflage is present in several animal species and the human invention of it was made by observing those species. The most convincing example of active camouflage in animals is the octopus
The octopus is a cephalopod mollusc of the order Octopoda. Octopuses have two eyes and four pairs of arms, and like other cephalopods they are bilaterally symmetric. An octopus has a hard beak, with its mouth at the center point of the arms...

, which can blend into its surroundings by changing skin color as well as skin shape and texture. The cuttlefish
Cuttlefish are marine animals of the order Sepiida. They belong to the class Cephalopoda . Despite their name, cuttlefish are not fish but molluscs....

, another cephalopod like the octopus, is also known for its color changing capabilities. Cuttlefish can produce more colors than most octopuses can. The chameleon
Chameleons are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of lizards. They are distinguished by their parrot-like zygodactylous feet, their separately mobile and stereoscopic eyes, their very long, highly modified, and rapidly extrudable tongues, their swaying gait, the possession by many of a...

 and other reptiles such as the anole
Polychrotidae is a family of lizards commonly known as anoles . NCBI places the anole in subfamily Polychrotinae of the family Iguanidae. Four genera are common: Anolis, Norops, Phenacosaurus, and Polychrus....

 can also change its color to blend with its surroundings. However, a chameleon more routinely changes color based on body temperature and how stressed it is. The ability is also used to communicate with other chameleons. Color change is also communicative in octopuses and cuttlefish. The best examples of active camouflage are plaice, sole, flounders, and other pleuronectoforms that actively copy the patterns, textures, value, hue, and chroma of the seafloor below them, including mimicking stationary patterns (propagated backwards) while swimming forwards.

External links

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