Breakthrough research from the University of California-San Diego could take the US military one step closer towards having cloaked aircraft and drones.
Researchers Li Yi Hsu, Thomas Lepetit, and Boubacar Kante have succeeded in creating an ultra thin “dielectric metasurface cloak,” which is composed of a multitude of ceramic cylinders embedded into a layer of Teflon.
Like an invisibility cloak, this coating could mask objects from visible light and radio wavelengths, the Army Times notes, and the military is paying attention.
“I am very excited about this work,” Kante told the Army Times.
The cloak functions by either absorbing or directing electromagnetic waves away from an object. This, in turn, effectively masks the object making it ‘invisible.’ While experiments in 2006 first showcased a limited degree of invisibility cloaking, the new breakthrough has two main advantages over older methods.
First, Kante told the Army Times, the new material his team discovered uses ceramics rather than metal particles making the material easier and cheaper to manufacture. Second, the method of using ceramics and Teflon allows the cloak to be effective with coating layers as thin as millimetres.
“Previous cloaking studies needed many layers of materials to hide an object, the cloak ended up being much thicker than the size of the object being covered,” Hsu said in a statement. “In this study, we show that we can use a thin single-layer sheet for cloaking.”
These advantages make a world of difference in real world applications, which is why the military has taken a keen interest in the new cloak. Whereas older cloaking technology would have required 30cm of Teflon coating to mask a Predator drone from a surveillance system, the new cloaking technology could hide the same drone from the same radar with only 3mm of coating, the Washington Post reports.
This suddenly takes the idea of cloaking away from the realm of sci-fi and moves it firmly towards real world applications. Kayla Matola, a research analyst with the Homeland Defence and Security Information Analysis Center, told the Army Times that the new cloaking technology is “basically what the military’s looking for.”
“If anything this could provide the military with air superiority,” Matola told the Army Times.
And although the technology is still in its nascent stages, Matola estimates that due to the ease of manufacturing the coating from ceramics and Teflon, full scale production and utilization of the technology could occur within the next decade.
“There’s no fundamental roadblocks,” Kante told the Army Times. “It would be easy to manufacture.”
However, despite Matola’s optimism, there are still fundamental issues associated with the technology. The cloak can only be used to block one potential wavelength at a time currently, Endgadget reports, drastically limiting the current applicability of the current cloak.
Additionally, the cloak only blocks wavelengths that hit the target within a six degree range of a 45 degree angle. Beyond that range any item covered in the cloak would still be fully visible. The researchers said they are wroking on widening hte range.
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