The Millennium Falcon dodges blasts from a star destroyer in the science fiction classic "Star Wars." But the tech powering its deflector shields and invisibility cloaking are more real than you might think.Lucasfilm
Nov. 12, 2012: A member of the lab at Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering has made a giant leap toward creating an invisibility cloak.Duke University
Invisibility cloaks and deflector shields, once a staple of popular science-fiction, are now the real deal, researchers say.
Cloaking and shields have long protected starcruisers from blaster shots and rebel fighters is Star Wars and Star Trek. Here on Earth, top researchers have been battling too, not over the fate of the empire but over whose tech will someday shield U.S. ships.
Fractal Antenna Systems came out swinging Wednesday over an invisibility cloak "perfected" by researchers at Duke and Imperial College. Company CEO and inventor Nathan Cohen issued a scathingly critical press release throwing very visible zingers -- and claiming he invented it first.
“[Their tech] makes you more, not less, visible,” Cohen said.
'[Their tech] makes you more, not less, visible.'
- Fractal Antenna Systems CEO and inventor Nathan Cohen
Fractal Antenna Systems says its invisibility cloak technology was given the world’s first patent in August 2012. Its microwave invisibility cloak (cut from the same technology cloth) can successfully make an entire person disappear, while the Duke / Imperial College team achieved invisibility on a smaller scale, making a 3-inch cylinder vanish.
The company says a patent-pending deflector shield built off a variant of the technology can divert electromagnetic radiation around an object -- and they plan to show it off.
This Friday in New York City, the company plans to demonstrate a human invisibility cloak and deflector shield at the Radio Club of America. Cohen said the deflector shield works by using cloak technology not to hide an object but to pass radiation around it.
"There is no attempt to 'image.' 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 … There is no 'bounce back,'" Cohen said, adding that "this is truly a new and novel technology.”
The deflector shield design is a snug vest comprised of an inner copper layer and fractal-shaped artificial metamaterials around it. The company claims that approximately 90 percent of the electromagnetic power from microwaves was diverted around an object in internal testing.
“Justin wasn’t hiding inside a cloak, he was wearing it, like a modern armored vest … If you played Star Wars at microwaves you’d be losing to him right now. You couldn’t take him down.”
Meanwhile, the rival tech has severe limitations, he said.
“If you move half a degree in angle, it stops working. If you move half 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 percent … by attempting to disappear at one super-narrow wavelength you actually increase your profile at all others," Cohen said.
"If you move a bit off axis, you are toast, even at that one super-narrow microwave band,” Cohen added.
He has produced high-fidelity "wideband" human cloaking, Cohen said, explaining that the invisibility cloak has not yet been revealed because he's busy with business.
“We understand that many people are fascinated by this research result and want more details. However, this is a busy time for the company and our customers come first.”
Ballet dancer turned defense specialist Allison Barrie has traveled around the world covering the military, terrorism, weapons advancements and life on the front line. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Allison_Barrie.