Like so many other popular science fiction books, movies and franchises, Star Trek has inspired many innovators to ask the question “why not?” Although Star Trek did not have a monopoly on inspiration for cloaking devices, a technology that was first awarded a U.S. patent earlier this year, it is hard to imagine a more powerful motivation for the pursuit of deflector shields.
Earlier today, the company and inventor that just recently received that first U.S. patent on a cloaking device announced that it had successfully tested a device capable of diverting electromagnetic radiation, thereby producing the “deflector shield” long sought in science fiction movies, television, stories, and video games.
Prepare to raise shields!
According to Fractal Antenna Systems the deflector shield device is a variation of the invisibility cloak technology, which was invented by the firm’s CEO, Nathan Cohen. The deflector shield aspect of this line of innovation currently has a patent pending, but no further information was disclosed by the company.
“A deflector shield uses cloak technology not to hide an object but to pass radiation around it,” says Cohen. “Not only is the power deflected safely to the other side, but there is virtually no change to the object caused by the radiation pressure, unlike a mirror or an absorber. There is no ‘bounce back’. This is truly a new and novel technology.”
The deflector shield was constructed as a snug vest and worn by one of the firm’s team during testing. The vest is comprised of an inner copper layer and fractal-shaped metamaterials conforming around it. The test subject, named Justin, had virtually 90% of the electromagnetic power from microwaves diverted around him. “Justin wasn’t hiding inside a cloak, he was wearing it, like a modern armored vest,” said Cohen. “If you played Star Wars at microwaves you’d be losing to him right now. You couldn’t take him down.”
Skeptical of Cohen’s claims? As with any new innovation that pushes the envelope of scientific understanding you should be skeptical. Skepticism is a part of the scientific process. Attempting to recreate what is described is the cornerstone of acceptance in scientific terms. And a first step along that path is demonstration. No doubt with this in mind, Cohen will be demonstrating the technology at the Radio Club of America in New York City on November 16, 2012.
In news unrelated to the announcement of a deflector shield device, Cohen and Fractal also issued a press release today addressing the claims make by Duke University yesterday that it had developed a so-called “perfect cloaking device.” See Duke University creates ‘perfect’ one-directional microwave cloak, might lead to stealthier vehicles.
Cohen’s is highly skeptical of the claims made by Duke University that it has achieved a perfect cloak. “The results of the Duke University group illuminate no new avenues on improving the extant invisibility cloak technology,” Cohen said.
Cohen asserts that the “perfect cloak” has inherent limitations. Cohen explained:
If you move half a degree in angle, it stops working. If you move ½ a percent in bandwidth, it stops working. Even when in exact alignment, there are variations in intensity that, according to their data, change by almost 50%. Furthermore the ‘perfect cloak’ has to have a huge superstructure of two different sets of mirrors and is more than twice as wide as the region being cloaked. So by attempting to disappear at one super-narrow wavelength you actually increase your profile at all others. It makes you more, not less, visible.
According to Cohen, an effort to cloak a tank with a “perfect cloak” would require a contraption surrounding it as big as an Olympic swimming pool. “If you move a bit off axis, you are toast, even at that one super-narrow microwave band.”
In defense of Duke I should point out that Duke claims that they have successfully shielded a 3-inch wide cylinder from microwave detection without a hint that something was present, or missing for that matter. Duke has been one of the pioneers in cloaking research for many years, and their approach has been based on incremental advances. That does not necessarily mean that they are going down the wrong path, although it may be ultimately proven to be unworkable as Cohen says on larger scales necessary for useful application.
Notwithstanding, the Cohen approach and the Duke approach do seem rather different. Duke is seeking a perfect solution and Cohen is seeking what he describes as a “very, very good” solution. “By avoiding the quest for perfect we find huge leeway in very, very good. That is where the progress in cloaks has been achieved and where it will continue to go,” said Cohen.
Time will tell which research path will win out. The history of innovation suggests that these paths will continue to grow side by side until such time that one clearly overpowers the other, or until some other research path proves even more fruitful. When there is a winner, and there almost certainly will be a winner at some point, then those working in this space will standardize. This is sometimes facilitated by patent wars, as has been the case with many technologies. But once the dust settles and a winner emerges, even if the winner emerges as the result of patent wars, the future from that point will be marked with extraordinary leaps forward.
Whatever your opinion, how cool is it that we can actually talk about the science fiction gadgetry from Star Trek becoming reality? As someone who grew up watching Star Trek it is extremely gratifying to see how science fiction has inspired the next generation of other-wordly innovations.