Over millions of years, animals such as the chameleon, cuttlefish and cephalopod have developed adaptive coloration – changing skin color – for use as camouflage or communication. Today, makers of electronic devices are developing e-paper screens that display color in ambient light (that is, not backlit). Let’s see where biology holds an advantage over technology.
COLOR: Electrokinetic displays under development reproduce color quality equal to newspaper printing standards. Cephalopods cannot reproduce as wide a range, but then again, evolution did not require them to.
DARK STATE: Displays can now adjust to reflection values of 5-10 percent. Cephalopod skin can adjust to dark brown but not black.
INTEGRATION AND SOPHISTICATION: Cephalopods, with their intelligence and complexity, far outperform any electronic display device.
ENVIRONMENTAL ADAPTATION: Color adaptation to the environment is a fact in cephalopods, but unproven in technology.
REQUIRED ENERGY: Both nature and technology consume low power, but
animals can replenish their own energy while technology cannot.
SPEED: Technology’s speed of adaptation far exceeds the tens of milliseconds requrired for biological vision systems to adapt.
SURFACE TEXTURE: Cephalopods can crinkle their skin to mimic a variety of textures, providing additional light scattering and shadowing. By comparison, an on-screen display of texture is flat and fake-looking.
FLEXIBILITY: Cephalopod skin is expandable and flexible, but flexible display screens remain in the development lab and are not available to the public.
SCALABILITY: To be considered scalable, a display must be increased in size with a low number of defects. Rigid display panels are manufactured in sizes of 100 inches or more, but flexible displays have remained under 10 inches.
Karl has been Purch's infographics specialist across all editorial properties since 2010. Before joining Purch, Karl spent 11 years at the New York headquarters of The Associated Press, creating news graphics for use around the world in newspapers and on the web. He has a degree in graphic design from Louisiana State University.