Invisibility Cloaks
The Power of True Invisibility May Now Be Possible

Invisibility Cloaks
The Power of True Invisibility May Now Be Possible

An operational, non-fictional cloaking device might be an extension of the basic technologies used by stealth aircraft, such as radar-absorbing dark paint, optical camouflage, cooling the outer surface to minimize electromagnetic emissions (usually infrared), or other techniques to minimize other EM emissions, and to minimize particle emissions from the object.

The use of certain devices to jam and confuse remote sensing devices would greatly aid in this process, but are more properly referred to as "active camouflage".

Alternatively, metamaterials provide the theoretical possibility of making electromagnetic radiation appear to pass freely through the 'cloaked' object.

The power of true invisibility may now be possible.

This episode investigates classified reports that the British military recently (in 2007) tested an invisible battle tank (a Challenger tank) using metamaterials, Jasper Maskelyne and his deception camoflauge used in World War II, the Philadelphia Experiment, examines the scientific breakthroughs that may soon give us all the power of invisibility, and witnesses a remarkable demonstration of an invisibility cloak that makes a man vanish.

On October 19, 2006, a cloak was produced that routed microwaves of a particular frequency around a copper cylinder in a way that made them emerge almost as if there were nothing there.

The cloak was made from metamaterials. It cast a small shadow, which the designers hope to fix.

The device obscures a defined two dimensional region and only at a particular microwave frequency. Work on achieving similar results with visible light is in progress.

Other types of invisibility cloak are also possible, including ones that cloak events rather than objects.

However, cloaking a human-sized object at visible wavelengths appears to have low probability. Indeed, there appears to be a fundamental problem with these devices as "invisibility cloaks":

“It's not yet clear that you're going to get the invisibility that everyone thinks about with Harry Potter's cloak or the Star Trek cloaking device. To make an object literally vanish before a person's eyes, a cloak would have to simultaneously interact with all of the wavelengths, or colors, that make up light.”

On the other hand, a group of researchers connected with Berkeley Lab and the University of California, Berkeley believe that cloaking at optical frequencies is indeed possible.

Furthermore, it appears within reach. Their solution to the hurdles presented by cloaking issues are dielectrics. These nonconducting materials (dielectrics) are used for a carpet cloak, which serves as an optical cloaking device.

According to the lead investigator: “We have come up with a new solution to the problem of invisibility based on the use of dielectric (nonconducting) materials.”

“Our optical cloak not only suggests that true invisibility materials are within reach, it also represents a major step towards transformation optics, opening the door to manipulating light at will for the creation of powerful new microscopes and faster computers.”

Furthermore, a new cloaking system was announced in the beginning of 2011 that is effective in visible light and hides macroscopic objects ,i.e., objects that can be seen with the human eye. The cloak is constructed from ordinary, and easily obtainable calcite.

The crystal consists of two pieces configured according to specific parameters. The calcite is able to refract the light around a solid object positioned between the crystals. The system employs the natural birefringence of the calcite. From outside the system the object is not visible "for at least 3 orders of magnitude larger than the wavelength of light in all three dimensions."

Since objects can be seen by light in the visible spectrum from a source reflecting off their surfaces and hitting the viewer's eye, the most natural form of invisibility (whether real or fictional) is an object that neither reflects nor absorbs light (that is, it allows light to pass through it).

In nature, this is known as transparency, and is seen in many naturally occurring materials (although no naturally occurring material is 100% transparent).

Visibility also depends on the eyes of the observer and/or the instruments used. Thus an object can be classified as "invisible to" a person, animal, instrument, etc.

In the research of sensorial perception invisibility has been shown to happen in cycles. Invisibility is often considered the supreme form of camouflage, as it doesn't show any kind of vital, visual, nor any of the frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum such as radio, infrared, ultra violet, etc.

The calcite solves for the limitations of attempting to cloak with metallic inclusions - this method does not require a nanofabrication process as has become necessary with the other methods of cloaking.

The nanofabrication process is time consuming and limits the size of the cloaked region to a microscopic area.

The system works best under green light. In addition the researchers appear to be optimistic about a practical cloaking device in the future: “In summary, we have demonstrated the first macroscopic cloak operating at visible frequencies, which transforms a deformed mirror into a flat one from all viewing angles.”

“The cloak is capable of hiding three-dimensional objects three to four orders of magnitudes larger than optical wavelengths, and therefore, it satisfies a layman's definition of an invisibility cloak: namely, the cloaking effect can be directly observed without the help of microscopes. Because our work solves several major issues typically associated with cloaking: size, bandwidth, loss, and image distortion, it paves the way for future practical cloaking devices.”

The design calls for tiny metal needles to be fitted into a hairbrush-shaped cone at angles and lengths that would force light to pass around the cloak.

This would make everything inside the cone appear to vanish because the light would no longer reflect off it. "It looks pretty much like fiction, I do realize, but it's completely in agreement with the laws of physics," said lead researcher Vladimir Shalaev, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue.

"Ideally, if we make it real it would work exactly like Harry Potter's invisibility cloak," he said. "It's not going to be heavy because there's going to be very little metal in it."

On April 30, 2009, two teams of scientists developed a cloak that rendered objects invisible to near-infrared light. Unlike its predecessors, this technology did not utilize metals, which improves cloaking since metals cause some light to be lost. Researchers mentioned that since the approach can be scaled down further in size, it was a major step towards a cloak that would work for visible light.

Invisibility Breakthrough for Japanese Researchers

The technology comes from 2003, but it's developers say the Harry Potter-like invisibility cloak is just the beginning.

The team, led by Dr. Susumu Tachi, from Keio University, is now adapting their findings to help pilots, drivers, doctors and others.  
Retro-reflective projection technology uses a computer, a video camera and projector to shine background images onto the front of a subject wearing specialised clothing, creating the illusion of invisibility.

What makes the technology unique is a fabric made of glass beads only 50 microns wide, which can reflect light directly back at the source, much like the screen in a cinema.

Viewed from near the light source, the projection is bright even in broad daylight, and researchers say the material can be applied to almost anything. In the short term, the team sees usage in car interiors, airplanes and helicopters. They say blind spots could be eliminated and accidents and hard landings avoided by making walls seemingly transparent.

The eventual goal though is to create an "augmented reality" that allows anyone to easily see information on real world objects.  

[Dr. Susumu Tachi, Keio University]: "Looking to the future, instead of glasses, people could wear this and it would act as a navigation system. It could also tell you who someone is, if you meet them around town."

In the few years since the technology's invention, the price of the material, as well as that of computing, has come down, opening the door for smaller yet more powerful applications. Whether used to increase safety or to create a whole new form of computer-human interaction, the world is likely to see, or possibly not see, more of this technology in the future.