In July, Boubacar Kante and his team at UC San Diego announced the successful test of a "dielectric metasurface cloak." While that may sound like a Scientology gadget, it’s actually a thin material which manipulates visible light and radio waves.
Essentially, an invisibility cloak.
"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," researcher Li-Yi Hsu said in a statement from the university.
"In this study, we show that we can use a thin single-layer sheet for cloaking."
It’s far from "true" invisibility, but the US military has long indicated an interest in obtaining stealth fabrics. UCSD’s material could be the answer.
"If anything this could provide the military with air superiority," Kayla Matola, a research analyst with the Homeland Defense & Security Information Analysis Center told Army Times, adding that it’s "basically what the military’s looking for."
Matola’s job is to scour the academic and industrial sector for any technology which could be of use to the US military. If the Defense Department does strike a deal with Kante and his team, Matola believes the technology could find its way onto military hardware within the next 5-10 years.
"Basically, we are ready to make them right now," Kante told Army Times.
"There’s no fundamental roadblocks. It would be easy to manufacture."
The US Army sent out a request to tech companies in May, seeking high tech stealth fabrics. With a goal of testing prototypes within 18 months, the UCSD material may be the Pentagon’s best bet.
Still, while advances are being made in the technology, some remain skeptical about the feasibility of a fully-functioning cloaking device.
"Complete invisibility of macroscopic objects for all visible colors is fundamentally impossible," Martin Wegener, of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, told the New Scientist.
Kante also thinks his material could be just as beneficial for less aggressive purposes.
"Doing whatever we want with light waves is really exciting," Kante said in a statement from the university. "Using this technology, we can do more than make things invisible. We can change the way light waves are being reflected at will and ultimately focus a large area of sunlight onto a solar power tower."
"We also expect this technology to have applications in optics, interior design and art," he added.