Breakthrough in cloaking technology grabs military’s attention

USA Today – by Kyle Jahner, Military Times

An academic says he and his colleagues have demonstrated a major breakthrough in the quest for invisibility, and he has the military’s attention.

Boubacar Kante, a professor at the University of California-San Diego, and his colleagues tested the first effective “dielectric metasurface cloak.” That’s a fancy way of describing a super-thin, non-metal material that manipulates electromagnetic waves, including visible light and radio waves.  

635783831469620327-invisibleThose electromagnetic waves and how they come off an object are crucial to the ability to detect it. Radar can’t detect a plane without radio waves bouncing back to a receiver, and seeing requires light bouncing off an object and passing into your eyeball. Manipulating those waves could, in theory, prevent detection, and in certain conditions, Kante said he can do that.

“I am very excited about this work,” Kante told Army Times.

Kante said he has been in contact with a Defense Department project manager and expects to be submitting a proposal this month.

What makes this stuff unique?

In 2006 researchers demonstrated it was possible to absorb or direct electromagnetic waves around an object through a coating and make it “invisible”; it only worked on microwaves and in two dimensions. Advances since then helped lead Kante and his team (Li Yi Hsu and Thomas Lepetit) to a new material consisting of a layer of Teflon substrate with tiny ceramic cylinders embedded into it.

Kante cited two main breakthroughs: the ultra-thin material, and the use of the ceramics rather than metallic particles in the Teflon.

Previous cloaking efforts required materials as much as 10 times thicker than the wavelength being dodged. Missile guidance and marine radar wavelengths measure roughly 3 centimeters; that would require about a foot of coating. Kante said his material can work at 1/10 of the wavelength. Hiding from that same 3 cm wavelength would thus only require about a 3 mm coat. Different thicknesses (thinner) could be used for electromagnetic waves as small as those of visible light (which ranges from about 400 to 700 nanometers.)

What are the military benefits?

In case it’s not obvious: to hide. There are far-reaching and fairly obvious military implications to getting an object close to an objective. Unmanned Areal Vehicles and other planes, ships and anything else interested in dodging radar could have a use for it. And it could also be used as high-end camouflage for any background colors.

The Homeland Defense & Security Information Analysis Center is a Defense Department contractor tasked essentially to be a matchmaker for the Pentagon and academia/industry. Kayla Matola, research analyst for HDIAC, told Army Times the UCSD design is lighter and cheaper than anything else out there, and “basically what the military’s looking for” regarding cloaking capabilities.

“If anything this could provide the military with air superiority,” Matola said.

Are there limits?

Yes. First, even in theory, true invisibility remains a pipe dream; the objects cloaked still are in front of what’s behind them. But there are also limitations to visual camouflage and radar-masking capabilities.

Angle limitations lead the list. The experiment tested the cloak with light hitting at a 45 degree angle, and works effectively only within a 6-degree range of angles. Kante said his team is working on ways to expand that. His study states that the math behind the effectiveness of this experiment indicates a “large range” of angles should be possible.

Also, Kante said the technology does not allow for a cloak that can hide an object from both visual and radar detection; a given cloak will only work for a fairly narrow range of wavelengths.

So like my hover board, this is super expensive and a long ways out.

Actually, Kante says no on both counts.

“Basically, we are ready to make them right now,” Kante said of the current (albeit limited) capabilities.

He said ceramics are cheap and abundant. And he said that while no companies possess the capabilities to produce vast quantities of this cloaking material now, he said scaling up would not be difficult.

“There’s no fundamental roadblocks,” Kante said. “It would be easy to manufacture.”

Matola estimated that use of this technology probably sits in the five- to 10-year range. The big question is just how fast the Army could test, decide whether and how to use, confirm efficacy and priority, find funding, and have industry make enough to slap it onto its toys. Matola did note that if Army fast-tracked a technology it brought forward, HDIAC then becomes the contracting agent and the contracting process can move in a matter of a month or so, much faster than in a competitive bidding process.

The future is awesome. What else could this be used for?

Kante, who came to the U.S. from France in 2010, did not specifically set out to help generals hide spying and killing machines from the enemy.

While interested in meta-materials that can control waves as this technology, he said his primary goal was to use the materials for cavities to trap light and store information for a long period of time. Using similar concepts as fiber-optics, which use light to transfer information rather than electricity, the simplified idea was to cut slower electricity out of computers and processors altogether.

Another application for the general field of manipulating waves revolves around solar power: Kante said in theory sunlight could be directed to a single point and captured as energy. He said his team has already submitted a proposal for a ceramic-based flat mirror that can direct sunlight to a certain point.

He’s also received interest from an interior design company.

3 thoughts on “Breakthrough in cloaking technology grabs military’s attention

  1. This appears to be referring to research these people published back in July. I saw the paper online. It describes what’s called a “carpet cloak.” Basically, the cloak lies over a small object much like a regular carpet might lie on top of a piece of gravel. This leaves a bump. But the way the light is manipulated by the cloak makes the bump appear flat — IF you look from the right angle and the right wavelength. And you can still see the cloak in this case — it just appears flat even though it actually has a bump in it from the hidden object. The use of novel materials here is interesting, but this is nothing close to “Harry Potter” invisibility.

    Even if someone does invent a cloak that works at all visible wavelengths and polarizations, and from any viewing direction, it will presumably have to be kept spotlessly clean (no dust build-up) and dry, since anything sitting on the cloak would make it visible. It would also give off heat, making the cloaked object visible to infrared optics. Of course, the nanometer-sized structures on the cloak’s surface would be highly vulnerable to damage. This is an incredibly tough problem.

    The people who are trying to develop such capabilities may have technical smarts, but they’re totally brainless regarding the implications of their work. The US “Defense” Department doesn’t need invisibility for national security; no military is going to attack the nuclear-armed US. This sort of invention would be used for the same purpose all new US military technology is used for: aggression.

  2. A guy on coast am last night was talking about how the REAL cloaking devises ARE NOT fabric or poncho types of tech used only on small objects. Objects as large as cities can be hidden from distances via electro magnetic manipulation. He eluded to them using it to ‘change’ the appearance as well. ie. a navy ship disappears and then one might see a sail boat, or a person walking on water, anything besides the large ship.

  3. As always, these assholes build something and go straight to the government to have them fund their project as the highest bidder in which they will soon find themselves in a ditch somewhere once it is complete. I mean do these inventors really think they can just escape the elite and disappear that easily? Like everyone else, these demons/devils will use you and then send you to your grave, the moment they are done with you. It’s either you or them and there’s no room for second place.

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