The Future is Here: The Invisibility Cloak!

quantum-stealth-fieldInvisibility cloaks have long been considered the next frontier of modern warfare. With stealth aircraft, stealth ships and even stealth tanks in service or on well on their way, it seems like the time is ripe for a stealth soldier. But difficulties remains. Whereas cloaking planes, ships and tanks is a matter of simply coating them in materials that can obscure them from radar and thermal imagine, soldiers need camouflage that can move, bend and flex with them.

In recent years, the efforts to produce a working “invisibility cloak” have born considerable fruit. And while most of these took the form of large, cumbersome, desk-mounted constructions that were more of a proof of concept for the material being tested, they did demonstrate that the technology itself worked. This was certainly true of the “cloak” which was created by scientists at Duke University in November of 2012.

INVISIBILITY-CLOAKAnd then came news the following month that a Canadian company named Hyperstealth developed a material that renders the wearer “completely invisible by bending light waves around the target.” Known as “Quantum Stealth”, this true cloak is an apparent follow-up to their SmartCamo – a material that could reportedly adjust its camouflage markings to match its surroundings – that was released at the International Camouflage Symposium in 2010.

Unfortunately, due to security reasons, little was ever known about SmartCamo other than its reported abilities. The same holds true for Quantum Stealth, which the company has been forced to remain clandestine about due the demands of the US Army, to whom they are contracted. So until such time as it enters widespread use, the details and inner workings of the technology will remain inaccessible.

invisibility_cloak1Luckily, the University of Texas in Austin is under no such constrictions, and it is from them that the latest and greatest news comes. In addition to being composed of conventional materials, their new cloak measures a mere 166 micrometers thick and is capable of obscuring an object from multiple directions at once. And though it may not be able to render a soldier truly invisible, it does render them all but invisible to radar detection, which is the intent here.

The fabrication process involved placing a 66µm-thick sheet of carbon (or a metascreen) onto a a 100µm-thick sheet of flexible polycarbonate. The copper is patterned specifically so that the scattered light from the cloak and the cloaked object cancel each other out. This flexible sheet also allows the cloak to conform to the shape of the object, or person, and provides cloaking from microwave radiation from all directions.

invisibility_cloak_uoftNow here’s where things get literal. The researchers responsible for this breakthrough have indicated that, in theory, this cloak could be used to cloak visible light as well. After all, microwaves, infrared and visible light are all physically identical; they are just waves that oscillate at different frequencies. And their design would be more capable of doing this than any cloak composed of metamaterials.

Still, size and scale are still an issue. Whereas their new patterned material scattering technique is capable of hiding an object from multiple directions, it also inversely scales with wavelength. That means that it is only capable of hiding micrometer-scale objects from 400-800THz of visible light. Still, this is exciting news and a step in the right direction!

Before we know it, stealth troopers could be marching all over the planet, invisible to the naked eye and any means of radar detection… Holy crap, what a scary thought! Is it too late to rethink this technology?

future_soldierSource:, (2)

Drone Wars!

X-47BThat’s the crux of Timothy Chung’s research, an assistant professor in the Systems Engineering department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. For the most part, he and the Advanced Robotics Systems Engineering Lab (ARSENL) have been working on a way to construct a series of low-cost, lightweight autonomous flying vehicles known as Aerial Battle Bots that will give the US and the western allies an advantage should a full-scale conflict involving UAV’s happen.

The aspect of cost is especially important, seeing as how drones cost on the order of several million dollars apiece. By supplementing reconnaissance and hunter-killers with dogfighting drones, the army and navy of the future will have a lost cost-option for keeping their big-budget fliers safe. What’s more, it’s extremely important that the drones work in tandem, since it’s highly likely other nations will be developing similar swarms of drones in the future too.

Chung_droneWith the help of a DARPA research grant, Chung and his associates have completed a small fleet of about a dozen drones. Each is a essentially a commodity radio-controlled flying machine, called Unicorn, that has been retrofitted with an onboard computer and other gear in order to take their places in the larger group. He hopes that by this August, he and his team will be able to get the vehicles flying and be able to start experimenting with getting them working together, as well as facing off!

In other news, questions relating to drone dogfights and the issue of autonomous drones were raised once again at the White House. Back around Thanksgiving, the mounting concerns from the human rights community led Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to sign a series of instructions that were designed to ensure that human oversight would always be a factor where drone strikes and UAV’s were concerned.

john-brennanThese concerns have since mounted with the recent announcement that John Brennan, the White House’s counter-terrorism adviser and the man known as the “Drone Godfather”, was nominated to become the next head of the CIA. For years now, he has been the man in charge of the US antiterrorism efforts in Central Asia, many of which have involved the controversial use of Predator and Reaper strikes.

These concerns were voiced in a recent letter from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), a member of the Senate intelligence committee. In it, he asked Brennan pointedly when and under what conditions the president would be able to target American citizens using drones:

“How much evidence does the President need to determine that a particular American can be lawfully killed? Does the President have to provide individual Americans with the opportunity to surrender before killing them?”

Naturally, the questions were quite specific when it came to the authorization of lethal force and when such authorization would be given to target people within the US’s borders. But there were also many questions that highlighted concerns over how this same process of authorization has taken place in other countries, and how little oversight has taken place.

(U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson)(Released)In short, Wyden used the occasion to express “surprise and dismay” that the intelligence agencies haven’t provided the Senate intelligence committee with a complete list of countries in which they’ve killed people in the war on terrorism, a move which he says “reflects poorly on the Obama administration’s commitment to cooperation with congressional oversight.” And given the mounting criticism at home that using killer drones against unspecified targets in Afghanistan and Pakistan has earned, not to mention the blowback happening overseas, he is not alone in thinking this.

Like it or not, it’s a new age where “umanning” the front lines is having an effect, albeit not the desired one. At one time, the predominant thinking in military and intelligence communities was that using automated aerial, land and sea vehicles, war could be fought cleanly, effectively, and without the loss of life – at least on OUR side. However, this thinking is coming under increasing scrutiny as it comes closer and closer to realization. And at the center of it all, the philosophical and existential questions are numerous and impossible to ignore.

For starters, war is and always will be a human endeavor. Just because you are not risking the lives of your own people doesn’t mean the fight is any more sanitary or bloodless. Second, even though none of your own citizens will be mourning the death of their loved ones doesn’t mean there won’t be mounting civilian opposition as conflicts go on. In a global community, people are able to witness and empathize with the plight of others. And finally, the increased use of machinery, be it autonomous or remote controlled, will inevitably lead to fears of what will happen if that same technology would ever be turned against its own people. No weapon is so safe and no government so trustworthy that people won’t fear the possibility of it being turned on them as well.