Science may have just given us one of the greatest gifts foretold by science fiction: invisibility cloaking. The experimental device is thin and flexible and can be applied to objects of very different sizes. The announcement comes from Dr. George Eleftheriades from the University of Toronto’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering and was published in Physical Review X.
This is not the first attempt for a cloaking device; it has been a highly researched area for years. This past spring, Michigan Technological University announced a cloaking system that used a dielectric coating to reflect and distort electromagnetic radiation waves used to find objects. This new cloaking system, however, uses an ultra-thin layer of antennae which emits a signal to completely cancel out any reflection from radar, instead of merely distorting it.
Additionally, the invisibility cloak can be used to deceive detection devices by sending signals to make the hidden object seem bigger, smaller, or even in a completely different location. This is achieved by an active looping system from the antennae that are in tune with the device trying to locate it. This is done manually for now, but future versions may be able to automatically register the incoming frequency and adjust in order to cancel it.
Work on this project began around seven years ago, but early prototypes required thick coatings of metamaterials, which was not practical for large objects. The current cloaking system can easily be scaled to hide objects of any size. This has obvious implications for military stealth operations and surveillance, but it could also be used to improve communication signals by effectively “hiding” any obstacles that interfere with signal strength.
This cloaking system currently just works with radio waves, but the research team says that this technology could be further developed to create the same results with with terahertz radiation (the region between infrared and microwave radiation) and could even work with light waves.
Considering we weren’t even supposed to know about invisibility cloaking until 2152 when humans first make contact with the Romulans, this is an amazing technological advance.