The camouflage technology-development work is being conducted out of a Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) laboratory in collaboration with the University of South Australia. Current Australian Defence Force (ADF) camouflage has been developed to work well in certain environments, but when the weather changes or the vehicle is required elsewhere, the camouflage can be completely ineffective.
The technology behind the new adaptive camouflage is panels of electrochromic material called SPD-Smart film, which, according to DSTO researcher Vivienne Wheaton, can be placed on glass or plastic surfaces. By applying a voltage across the film, researchers can manipulate how particles within the film orient themselves, providing a lighter or darker colour.
"Applied voltages of less than 5V will generally initiate colour changes in electrochromic materials, where the change is a result of the chemical species switching between oxidation states," Wheaton said.
In order to make the camouflage adapt to its surroundings, however, information about the vehicle's surroundings would have to be fed back to it.
"That would require sensors, integrated with the system, to sense the environment and appropriate signal processing to make enough sense of the environment's stimuli, and effectively guide the colour transition and pattern generation," Wheaton said.
Additionally, while the camouflage may fool the naked eye, it won't yet fool enemy radar or troops wearing infrared goggles. According to Wheaton, there are a number of other technologies being developed in China, North America and Europe, each of which focus on a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Part of the ADF's challenge lies in finding a way to combine all of these into one form of camouflage.
In the meantime, ADF's work with the University of South Australia will also look at making the camouflage field ready by making electrochromic materials more robust.