Invisibility cloaks just got an upgrade thanks to a scientific team in Germany claiming to have developed the first cloaking material designed to make objects “unfeelable.”
The Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) team has developed a polymer metamaterial capable of shielding objects from appearance, touch and sense by scientific instruments, according to Scientific American.
“We build the structure around the object to be hidden,” lead study author and physicist Tiemo Bückmann explained in the team’s published findings on Nature Communications. “In this structure, strength depends on the location in a defined way.”
“It is like in Hans-Christian Andersen’s fairy tale about the princess and the pea. The princess feels the pea in spite of the mattresses. When using our new material, however, one mattress would be sufficient for the princess to sleep well,” Bückmann said.
The cloak is composed of a crystalline material made up of long, thin cones with meeting tips. The points of contact are arranged in a way that fools the senses into registering a lack of any object underneath the cloak.
“The measured and the calculated displacement fields show very good cloaking performance,” the paper reads. “This means that one can elastically hide objects along these lines.”
Despite being solid object, the artificial metamaterial the cloak is composed of acts like a fluid and is easy to shift. The three-dimensional hexagonal structure is similar to a honeycomb, and the widths and lengths of the cloak’s structures are measured to surround and conceal an object’s specific dimensions.
“Creating the cloak was physically challenging—the components can sometimes be only 3.3 to 6.6 microns thick (the average human hair width is about 100 microns), and their dimensions have to be very precise for the cloak to work, so developing a technique to fabricate the cloak was difficult,” Bückmann said.
The team created the material as part of overall physics research, and as such, has no specific applications planned. Nevertheless the scientists believe the technology could be used to protect sensitive objects from being touched or damaged, and create practical commercial devices like carpets that hide cables or camping mattresses that shield users from the rough ground.
“I found it very astonishing how good the cloak works,” Bückmann said.