Researchers from the University of California-San Diego have created a breakthrough invisibility cloak that has caught the attention of the Defense Department due to its ability to hide objects from the naked eye. The UCSD team has been in contact with a Defense Department liaison and is preparing to submit a proposal detailing their cloaking technology, reports the Army Times.
The UCSD cloak attracted such significant attention due to its unique design which allows the invisibility shield to be lighter and cheaper than any other cloaking technology currently under development. UCSD Professor Boubacar Kante and his colleagues created a “dielectric metasurface cloak” which uses an ultra-thin, non-metallic material comprised of a Teflon substrate with embedded ceramic cylinders. Both teflon and ceramic is abundant, making it easy and inexpensive to produce. The combination of this very thin material, its non-metallic properties, and its cheap manufacturing costs set the UCSD design apart from competing cloaking technologies.
Due to the materials used in its design, the UCSD cloak works by manipulating electromagnetic waves, such as visible light or radio waves. Because it can scatter these waves, the material is able to resist visual or radar detection, potentially making an object invisible to radar or the naked eye. The material only operates within a narrow range of wavelengths, which means a single piece can only be used for a single purpose, such as hiding from radar. The ability to hide from sight, for example, would require another piece of the fabric built with a different thickness.
Despite its limitation, the cloak is very effective, requiring less material than previous technologies. Early cloaking designs required material ten times thicker than the wavelength being blocked. The UCSD cloak is effective at 1/10th of a wavelength, allowing the team to use only a 3mm piece of material to dodge a 3cm radar wave. Previous cloaking solutions needed approximately a foot of material to achieve the same results. The UCSD technology also can be adapted to block different wavelengths by modifying the thickness of the material being used. This would allow the military to use the material in a variety of different applications.
The military is interested in the breakthrough because it is “basically what the military’s looking for” in a cloaking solution, says Kayla Matola, research analyst from Homeland Defense & Security Information Analysis Center. It’s lightweight, cheap, and easily adaptable to new situations. Initial plans would call for small scale uses such as camouflaging unmanned aerial vehicles, while future uses may include larger endeavors like hiding ships, aircraft, and convoy vehicles from enemy radar.