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The Military Technology Science

Scientists Closer To Invisibility Cloak 308

Aviran was one of many readers to submit news of a just-announced development in the ongoing quest to develop a working invisibility cloak, writing: "Scientists say they are a step closer to developing materials that could render people and objects invisible. Researchers have demonstrated for the first time they were able to cloak three-dimensional objects using artificially engineered materials that redirect light around the objects. Previously, they only have been able to cloak very thin two-dimensional objects" Reader bensafrickingenius adds a link to coverage at the Times Online, and notes that "the world's two leading scientific journals, Science and Nature, are expected to report the results this week." Tjeerd adds a link to a Reuters' story carried by Scientific American.
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Scientists Closer To Invisibility Cloak

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  • by nullCRC ( 320940 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:50AM (#24554943)

    I would have claimed 1st, but someone appears to be cloaked.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:50AM (#24554953)
    The lead engineer on the project added "Our engineers are currently testing the cloak extensively in women's locker rooms, on their speeding cars, to sneak into class late, to hide from bumbling crooks, and in other comic scenarios which have, to date, only been seen in lame movies. Our hope is to perfect the technology to the point where an engineer can sneak up on the bully that tormented him in high school and kick him in the testicles." After detailing the particulars of the complex optic engineering of the project, he concluded with "The day is now in sight where we will have a cloaking device truly worthy of an early-90's Kirk Cameron movie--or, God willing, even a Michael J. Fox made-for-TV movie from the 80's."
    • by b4upoo ( 166390 )

      I'd like to visit a few banks wearing this gizmo.

    • I know everyone is making with the jokes,but I for one really don't like the idea of this. Yet again,we have scientists seeing if they CAN do something,rather than if they SHOULD do something. As aggressive as the US has been lately,does anyone really want gunships,fighter jets,and whole squads of special forces rendered invisible? Not to mention what a powerful weapon for "regime change" this would be. No country would be able to protect their leaders when you could set up a sniper a couple of blocks away from them without ever being seen. All around,with such a huge potential for abuse and no positive applications that I can see,it just sounds like a giant bad idea. But as always this is my 02c,YMMV
      • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @11:36AM (#24556275) Homepage

        I know everyone is making with the jokes,but I for one really don't like the idea of this. Yet again,we have scientists seeing if they CAN do something,rather than if they SHOULD do something. As aggressive as the US has been lately,does anyone really want gunships,fighter jets,and whole squads of special forces rendered invisible?

        Hear hear! Perhaps we should revise the Geneva convention. From now on, all snipers must jump up and down waving their arms and yelling "Look at me" before taking their shot. All submarines must have PA systems that continually blast Rick Astley music when they're submerged. All spy drones must broadcast Flight of the Valkyries when on a mission.

        I understand your point but, as long as the world has weapons, governments will be spending money on improving them (range/cloaking/accuracy/flexibility/etc.) If you go to the government leaders who control weapons funding and ask them "Should this weapon be improved?", once they're done laughing the answer will certainly be "Yes." And, assuming that this product would be fielded for military use as you imply, it would be seen as a measure to both increase our effectiveness on the battlefield and protect our troops. That would change the government's answer from "Yes" to "Hell yes." Right? Wrong? Doesn't matter - just the world we live in.

      • by Xabraxas ( 654195 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @11:48AM (#24556431)

        I know everyone is making with the jokes,but I for one really don't like the idea of this. Yet again,we have scientists seeing if they CAN do something,rather than if they SHOULD do something. As aggressive as the US has been lately,does anyone really want gunships,fighter jets,and whole squads of special forces rendered invisible? Not to mention what a powerful weapon for "regime change" this would be. No country would be able to protect their leaders when you could set up a sniper a couple of blocks away from them without ever being seen. All around,with such a huge potential for abuse and no positive applications that I can see,it just sounds like a giant bad idea. But as always this is my 02c,YMMV

        While we are limiting ourselves from creating an invisibility cloak do we have to ban warfare at night and stealth aircraft? I mean, those things just aren't fair. In fact let's get rid of guns, camouflage, body armor, aircraft, and submarines. We can settle things with a boxing match. Technological advances in warfare has continued for centuries now. We've been down this path before with other technology but I wouldn't be too worried. Just as devices like these are created others are created to defeat them. It is the natural progression of weapons.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          >Just as devices like these are created others are created to defeat them. It is the natural progression of weapons.

          You mean tools, not weapons. Many things that have potential use as weapons have non-weapon uses as well. It's only a weapon when it's used as one. Otherwise it's a tool. A knife is a tool when you use it to slice bread.

      • Define invisible? If by invisible you mean not seen by radar systems, we have that now. If by invisible you mean from the human eye or the cameras eye, then that is something different. Seeing how this is refracted light, it's not going to make much difference or for that matter give much of a tactical edge against heat signatures.
      • by Verteiron ( 224042 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @11:51AM (#24556483) Homepage

        Even a perfect optical cloak would still be detectable in many ways. Bear in mind that wearing a perfect optical cloak will render you blind. This means you'll have to navigate using other methods. You could wear infrared goggles, but that means you're visible in infrared light and therefore detectable. You could make yourself invisible to all wavelengths, perhaps, and then navigate by sonar. A microphone will pick that up easily enough. Likewise radar. You could, I suppose, navigate via a remote camera signal that displays your surroundings on a screen located inside the cloaking device. That would be disorienting but one could probably train for it or use a VR representation of your surroundings. Assuming, then, that you can obfuscate the video signal and avoid emitting any light yourself, then you'll be foiled by a cheap fog curtain [] at the entrance of a building. Or, if you want to be more practical about it, a metal detector. If the target of your assassination attempt is outdoors, you'd best hope that there's no precipitation, smoke, smog, or fog. And you won't be able just to point and shoot, either. Remember, you're blind.

        Even assuming a partial optical cloak that lets you be invisible "enough" (perhaps in shadows) and still see somehow, you'll still be detectable. If this technology becomes available, technology to defeat it will, too. Off the top of my head... a sonar or radar (preferably sonar, I think humans are transparent to radar) system that compares the visual or infrared spectrum with the echos. You probably wouldn't even need a human to operate it; a computer could simply find the discrepancies between the images and report them. A detection system like this would probably be affordable even to smaller nations. If you wanted to get really paranoid, you could even have the computer automatically target human-shaped echo discrepancies and fire long range or remote tasers at them, killing the cloak as soon as it is spotted.

        Or, save yourselves all the trouble, sprinkle sand everywhere and just watch for footprints. Or hold all public events in the middle of huge, 2-inch deep lakes.

      • You could apply this opinion to pretty much any type of military technology that has ever been created. Of course people can use this technology to do bad things, and they probably will. However, if there is a demand for such technology, and it's scientifically possible to create such technology, then someone or some organization will eventually create it. I'd rather we come up with this technology first before some other country where it might be more likely to end up in the hands of terrorists. Also,

      • Resistance to an idea won't prevent its reality.

        This technology will ultimately be available, and mankind will never learn to cope with it until it is a reality.

        If we hadn't pushed so hard for nuclear weapons (which have killed far far fewer people than, say, firebombs or religion), we wouldn't have had the cleanest safest source of energy on the planet as soon as we did. (Note: windmills are a joke, and solar panels don't last nearly long enough for their initial cost.)

        If only there were a way to make some dastardly weapon out of geothermal power...

      • whole squads of special forces rendered invisible

        imagine whole squads of geeks rendered invisible around hot women!

        oh wait.. n/m ;)

      • Science (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nurb432 ( 527695 )

        Raw science should not be bound by vague concepts of potential unethical use of discoveries.

        If we followed that idea we would ( at best ) still be sitting in a dark cold gloomy cave. Wondering if we get to eat tonight, or be eaten instead.

  • correction: (Score:5, Insightful)

    by larry bagina ( 561269 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:51AM (#24554961) Journal
    Scientists closer to fulfilling fantasy of hiding in girl's locker room.
  • Pictures? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Tibor the Hun ( 143056 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:51AM (#24554965)

    At first I was going to complain about the lack of pictures, but then I realized they wouldn't be too revealing anyway.

  • by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:51AM (#24554967) Homepage

    Very thin 2D objects eh? Nice.

    • by Endo13 ( 1000782 )

      If anything, it will be easy to spot, as humans pick out reflections and flashes, meaning that this would probably draw more attention than good camouflage.

      I dunno.. seems pretty effective in UT.

  • I thought I remember reading on Slashdot how some MIT guys already did a proof-of-concept on this a while back.

    • Re:MIT (Score:4, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:22AM (#24555331)
      Yeah, they probably turned out the lights. See? Ha! no you don't! We're MIT! Take that you Stanford weenies!
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by T3Tech ( 1306739 )
      I seem to recall seeing something as well. Though I've long figured that in certain applications the use of fiber optics could do a pretty good job of making something at least really, really hard to see that it was there.
  • War Application (Score:4, Interesting)

    by s31523 ( 926314 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:54AM (#24555005)
    An obvious use will be from a military aspect. I wonder about how this technology will be received by various insurgents in our numerous war campaigns. Imagine a small troop deployment vanishing and reappearing in front of a goat-herder turned freedom fighter. I don't know if he would cut-n-run or stand fast to fight the "demons"...
    • Re:War Application (Score:5, Informative)

      by IceMonkiesForSenate ( 1316211 ) <> on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:03AM (#24555103)
      I don't really see many applications for war unless they can allow the person underneath the cloak to see. That's one of the drawbacks to being invisible, since light goes around the cloak no light reaches the invisible person's eyes, and thus the person cannot see. However, I could see someone under fire activating the cloak, and just laying low for a while
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Firehed ( 942385 )

        I really hope that our wars aren't fought like Crysis in the future. The self-destruct feature probably makes sense for military use (and the idea of jumping fifty feet is pretty awesome), but I'd rather not deal with the frozen aliens.

      • Re:War Application (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Swizec ( 978239 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:25AM (#24555367) Homepage
        Depending on what wavelengths of light it works on you could still see out with IR goggles or some other fancy gizmo like perhaps radar.
      • by sm62704 ( 957197 )

        A way for the person underneath the cloak to see would be to have the cloak transparent to radio waves, and have a tiny robotic camera somewhere nearby transmitting pictures to a receiver the cloaked person holds.

      • Why would it be impossible to use light amplification and split the light into "inside" and "outside" parts. That way, for the cost of a little energy you can see and not be seen.

  • Nature's Abstract (Score:5, Informative)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:55AM (#24555011) Journal

    "the world's two leading scientific journals, Science and Nature, are expected to report the results this week."

    You can find the Nature abstract here []. And if you have a subscription, you can read the full research and see the data they collected from experiments.

    According to the Ars Technica article on this [], the Science link will be here [].

    There seems to be a few more papers and articles on this but if you're interested you can search for optical metamaterials with negative refractive indexes.

  • by dellcom ( 1213558 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:56AM (#24555029)
    "His cloak is perfect... no tachyon emissions, no residual antiprotons." on a serious note, would this not be vulnerable to infra-red cameras?
    • by daveatneowindotnet ( 1309197 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:10AM (#24555181)
      Considering TFA says they are bending light to achieve this, I don't see why infrared light would not be effected the same a visual light. What I find to be really interesting is what this could allow us to do with non-visual light (microwaves, radio, etc.)
      • by icegreentea ( 974342 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:14AM (#24555241)
        Well, the body radiates heat. Even if your suit could bend those, its going to end up heating up to skin temperature. Once that happens, its all over. It can bend IR where ever it wants, but since IR from a human body is relativity uniform to begin with (and you don't need detail to see a human figure heat blur on a IR sensor), you're still going to get a human shaped object on your IR sensors.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by dellcom ( 1213558 )
        If the material is 'bending the light' around the object then the IR would be bent with it, however if the object the material is covering is generating heat, then the cloak material would absorb that heat and emit it as IR radiation. From what the article says I do not see how it can cloak that.
      • by bmajik ( 96670 ) <> on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:58AM (#24555847) Homepage Journal

        I had to look up Snell's law quick, which doesn't mention wavelength as being a factor (I thought that the refective effects might vary according to wavelength), but then i noticed this at the bottom:

        In many wave-propagation media, wave velocity changes with frequency or wavelength of the waves; this is true of light propagation in most transparent substances other than a vacuum. These media are called dispersive. The result is that the angles determined by Snell's law also depend on frequency or wavelength, so that a ray of mixed wavelengths, such as white light, will spread or disperse. Such dispersion of light in glass or water underlies the origin of rainbows, in which different wavelengths appear as different colors.

        In optical instruments, dispersion leads to chromatic aberration, a color-dependent blurring that sometimes is the resolution-limiting effect. This was especially true in refracting telescopes, before the invention of achromatic objective lenses.'s_law [] []

        I would guess that any optical camoflauge technique has a function of input wavelength vs. camoflauge effectiveness, and that wavelenghths sufficiently on either side of "visible" would likely fall off of the effectiveness plateau.

      • by J_Omega ( 709711 )

        Why? Because IR (or UV, or radio, or gamma rays, etc.) have different wavelengths than visible light. Now, IANAInvisibilityCloakEngineer, but I can guess that the cloak only works at specific tuned frequencies/wavelengths - in this case, those of visible light. The same technology might/should work for other wavelengths, if designed to do that, but then might not cloak the visible spectrum. (But, yes, an IR cloak for nighttime operations would be beneficial.)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KenRH ( 265139 )

      would this not be vulnerable to infra-red cameras?

      First we need to rembeer that light, infra-red, ultra violet and radar (among others) are just different wavelengths of electromagnetic waves. So the prisiple is the same but one "cloack" technology may be effective for some wavelengts but not others.

      I'm just going to call it all emw for now.

      To be invisible one need to take care of four things.

      1. Not reflecting any emw from any emw-source to the sensor/observer.
      2. Not to emit any emw to the sensor/

  • by gardyloo ( 512791 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @09:57AM (#24555041)

    This was posted in Pharyngula yesterday. The usual prescient commenters noted that nowhere on the researchers' pages was there active speculation about an "invisibility cloak", and it was probably just some reporters going wacky over the possibilities. []

    • by icegreentea ( 974342 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:10AM (#24555187)
      One day isn't that bad. I wouldn't call it old. Also, previous developments on meta materials (see the Microwave ones), have pretty much been accepted as a possible first step towards cloaks. The Scientific America article has one of the researchers saying:

      "We are not actually cloaking anything," Valentine said in a telephone interview. "I don't think we have to worry about invisible people walking around any time soon. To be honest, we are just at the beginning of doing anything like that."

      So, while they aren't saying 'this will become an invisibility cloak', to say that there is no active speculation about applying visible light metamaterials as a cloak is wrong. Article also ends with comment on how these would make superior lens for microscopes.

      • You're right -- I was too hyperbolic in my skepticism. I'm just tired of the wild speculations, just about every year since Pendry et. al started up Veselago's prognotication in earnest using metamaterials. The press has a field day several times a year, and the scientists either haven't said anything serious about cloaking technology, or they're feeding the speculation just for fun. It's been done to death.

      • by hubie ( 108345 )

        There probably isn't much speculation amongst the scientists and engineers about applying it as an invisibility cloak (at least outside of the context of free publicity and pitching for Congressional pork money) because it most likely would not be effective, at least in the sense most of the breathless SF fanboys around here think. I don't think that you'll be able to construct something that can bend a continuous spectrum, such as sunlight. Single frequencies, sure. The Nature abstract mentions a "broad

  • Now if they could only find away to modify the HP of my Intimidating Shout... :)
  • by sakdoctor ( 1087155 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:02AM (#24555083) Homepage

    This story has popped up here and there in the press today, but when I actually RTFA the actual breakthrough is negative refractive index materials, in the visible spectrum.
    The application is not invisible tanks and infantry, but microscopy.

    See here for photoshopped image that enhances the misleading headline []

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's not actually photoshopped, its for a different technology where they can project "3D" images onto a surface and it will appear to be far away. Lots of tiny glass beads and whatnot. If i drape you in that stuff and take a projector and project a car onto you, if there is the same car behind you, you will be camoflaged. The only downside is that you need all of these projectors and whatnot to project a background image.
      Think Solid Snakes octocamo meets a movie theater.

      • Regardless of whether what you described is possible, I guarantee that picture was photoshopped. It's a very rudimentary job: just do an edge-detect on the picture of the guy and then layer it over the background picture with the correct layer mode (additive, I'm thinking).

        Oh, and the New York Times' cover would have been so much cooler if they'd used this technology [].

  • News Flash! (Score:2, Funny)

    by lolwhat ( 1282234 )
    We live it 3 dimensions.So who cares if they can cloak 2d objects. lol
  • Woot! (Score:5, Funny)

    by g0dsp33d ( 849253 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:18AM (#24555289)
    Sign me up for a blessed +5 waterproof one.
  • by jitterman ( 987991 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:26AM (#24555393)
    I mean, I can see right through it.
    • by Idaho ( 12907 )

      I mean, I can see right through it.

      Not only does the emperor wear no clothes. In fact, there is no emperor!

      Also, the usual slashdot saying "nothing to see here, please move along" seems to apply more than ever.

  • Thank goodness we're too soon for the Treaty of Algeron, so we can develop all the cloaking technology we want. Take that, Romulans!
  • Aren't ALL 2 dimensional objects very thin? In fact, wouldn't they have a 0 thickness?
  • "thin two-dimensional objects" - hmmm. My oxymoron detector is going off!

    • I think you mean your pleonasm detector. There's nothing impossible about thin 2d - it's pretty much the ultimate expression of thin!
      • Um, no, "thin" is a word which expresses a measurement in the third dimension. 2D objects (which don't exist in our 3D world, but we're talking about theoretical ones) don't have a third dimension. Calling a 2D object "thin" makes as much sense as watching a painting for 90 minutes and then complaining that there was no action and it lacked a plot.

  • by silentcoder ( 1241496 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:34AM (#24555501)

    To get my laptop past US customs without having it 'confiscated'...

    Seriously though - how long do you think until any tech like this is restricted to military use only ? If you actually do achieve human-level visible-spectrum invisibility (even if you have to move very slowly to avoid being caught by reflection shifts and such and have to avoid anybody with IR) - it will be banned for civilian use like a shot. The people who want it for 'hunting purposes' will kick up a fuss but we couldn't take the risk of an invisible man sneaking into the white house and farting on the president's desk now could we ?

    Okay... I tried to become serious but I failed... let's try this again:
    Considering the real security implications of true invisibility from the naked eye - do you think it will be banned/restricted ? Do you think it SHOULD be banned or restricted ?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by need4mospd ( 1146215 )
      Does it really matter if it's banned? First, just because it's banned doesn't mean the "bad guys" won't get it anyways. Second, the fact it's "invisible" would make it rather hard to find and confiscate.

      I think the current laws would work just fine in restricting it to legal usage only. If someone is caught using it to break a law, they get punished for whatever illegal act they committed.

      What's next, banning imaginary friends?

  • by MouseR ( 3264 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:35AM (#24555519) Homepage

    I'll believe it when I see it.

  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @10:50AM (#24555753)

    now they just can't find the blasted thing.

  • ...out of how many?

    Perhaps it's grant renewal time...


  • Now we know where all that matter is...

  • Being able to 'bend' light around an object is only a minor part of invisibility, I think - an object isn't invisible unless you can't see it in any way. The problem is that there is no guarantee that the light will appear to have followed a straight line through the 'invisible' object, as far as I can see, so there will be a visible distortion of the background.

    • Hmmm... while this could pose a problem in certain situations, for most camouflage uses it wouldn't be too critical a limitation. I don't really see much danger of someone detecting your presence by noticing that the sand looks distorted.

    • by Born2bwire ( 977760 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @11:32AM (#24556231)

      No, the light gets bent around it perfectly. The light coming in from the background enters the metamaterial, is bent around to the other side of the object and exits it just as if it had passed through the area enclosed by the metamaterial without any obstacles. Ideally, there is no way that an observer could tell the difference with the exception of knowing the time of travel. The path through the metamaterial is longer than that of the perceived path. I would think that if the shrouded object was in front of a large reflector of a known distance from a radar like source, then the added delay in the signal would add a very small amount of distance to the location of the reflector. An astute observer with very good equipment may notice a change in the position of the radar returns as a cloaked object crosses through. There are further exceptions that are introduced the more you start to use the theory in practice, the biggest problem being that the current solutions would require that an object be encased in a spherical shell of metamaterial, not the most convenient situation. In addition, the current crop of metamaterials have very small bandwidths, making the cloaked object perceptible to other detection methods. If you cloaked for the visible (and actually could cover the entire visible region) then you would probably be easily picked up via radar or infrared imaging.

  • And just last week, we had the "Pensieve" thing-y from IBM.

    When are the flying broomsticks coming?

  • Ever try making things out of invisible material?

  • Apparently my car has an invisibility cloak, because runners continually jog out in the street in front of it, jaywalkers stroll right into its path, and people constantly pull out right in front of me, even running stop signs and red lights to do it.

    The on/off switch itself is apparently cloaked, because I can't find it. I bought the car used, so I have no user manual (I had it a year before I found out how to make it stop honking when the "panic" button gets pressed accidentally; a cop showed me).

    As well

  • I think this would just be difficult to detect.

    SOLDIER ONE: "I think there's someone in one of them invisibility cloaks over there."
    SOLDIER TWO: "Send a couple dozen rounds into those bushes and see if you're right."

    The best use would (probably) be to hide the bottom of an aircraft.

  • by speculatrix ( 678524 ) on Monday August 11, 2008 @11:42AM (#24556349)
    I just sold one of these fabulous cloaks to a neighbouring monarch. Mind you, he wasn't too happy when he went out in the street and the kids all shouted out "the emperor's got no clothes on".

    I have another one, but I put it down somewhere and now I can't find it.

"For a male and female to live continuously together is... biologically speaking, an extremely unnatural condition." -- Robert Briffault