Invisibility cloaks may be in our not-so-distant future: US scientists have figured out how to cloak a freestanding, 3D object.
The research, which is published in today's edition of The New Journal of Physics, is the latest advance in the scientific quest to manipulate light to conceal objects — a technology that is of huge interest to the military, AFP reported.
"Camouflaging to radar is one important application, a super-stealth device to make objects invisible to radar," the study's co-leader Andrea Alu told AFP in a phone interview. "What we are thinking about is not necessarily cloaking the whole warplane but some hotspots, a part such as the tail plane that you would want to cloak because it reflects most of the energy (from microwave radar)."
However, the cloaking research is still in its very early stages. So far, researchers have only used a hi-tech coating to hide an object from microwave scanners; it is still visible to the naked eye, according to The Daily Mail.
The scientists projected that the technique could eventually be used to cloak objects from light and thus human vision.
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Most invisibility cloaking efforts by scientists have been discovered by modifying "metamaterials," or materials which have properties that are not found in nature, BBC News reported. Previous disappearing technologies have used the invisibility cloak concept, where the object to be hidden is draped with a "carpet" of metamaterial that bends light so as to make the object invisible.
This experiment is the first time cloaking has been successful in "free space" — scientists made an 18cm cylinder invisible to incoming microwave light.
Ortwin Hess, professor of metamaterials at Imperial College London, told the BBC that the study was a "very nice verification that this approach works."
"There are some limits on where these things can be applied, but nevertheless it's really, really interesting and fundamental indeed," Hess said.