“Berkeley Lab Researchers Create Ultrathin Invisibility Cloak.”
So reads a news release from the US Department of Energy’s venerated lab at the University of California, Berkeley. The cloak is too small for even the tiniest of boy wizards — it can cover no more than a few human cells — but it’s a neat accomplishment. It is not, however, a sign that practical invisibility cloaks are close to being a reality.
There are basically two real-world approaches to camouflage: crypsis and mimesis. (Motion dazzle is a third approach — think of the stripes on a zebra — but no one can really prove it works.) Crypsis involves blending into the background and disappearing, like a ninja. Mimesis, on the other hand, involves disguising an object to look like something else, like one of those Mission: Impossible masks.
In warfare, there are a fair number of legal restrictions to mimesis. For instance, you can’t paint your tank white with a big red cross on it and pretend it’s an ambulance that just so happens to have a gigantic gun. Other forms of mimesis are much better known, like the various countermeasures — chaff and flares — used by aircraft to distract hostile missiles.
Chaff is made from little strips of metallic or metal-coated stuff that reflects radar waves being used to target an aircraft. Flares are basically like road flares; they burn at high temperatures, producing infrared (IR) signals that heat-seeking missiles are supposed to lock on to. Both chaff and flares represent a specific type of mimesis, but are distinct from each other in one particular way: Chaff is passive — it emits no signal of its own — while flares actively emit an IR signal.
A great example of both mimesis and active camouflage is a system developed by BAE called ADAPTIV, which plasters a vehicle with tiny IR emitters that put out signals making the vehicle, like a tank, appear on enemy IR sensors to be something harmless, like an ambulance. They can also make the vehicle appear to be whatever is behind it, like a field.
Read the Remainder at Vice News