Conventional machines rely on rigid, centralized electronic components to make decisions, which limits complexity and scaling. Here, we show that decision making can be realized on the material-level without relying on semiconductor-based logic. Inspired by the distributed decision making that exists in the arms of an octopus, we present a completely soft, stretchable silicone composite doped with thermochromic pigments and innervated with liquid metal. The ability to deform the liquid metal couples geometric changes to Joule heating, thus enabling tunable thermo-mechanochromic sensing of touch and strain. In more complex circuits, deformation of the metal can redistribute electrical energy to distal portions of the network in a way that converts analog tactile ‘inputs’ into digital colorimetric ‘outputs’. Using the material itself as the active player in the decision making process offers possibilities for creating entirely soft devices that respond locally to environmental interactions or act as embedded sensors for feedback loops.
Designing bio-inspired computational features in soft systems without centralized processing remains challenging. Here, the authors propose a passive display based on thermochromic elastomers by leveraging Joule heating of embedded liquid metal wires by changing geometry in response to deformation.