British Company Develops E-Ink Panels To Make Small Drones Invisible

Jonah Bennett | Contributor

British company Plextek Consulting is developing electronic panels that enable small drones to quickly adopt different patterns depending on the environment.

The panels display e-ink screens and work well with drones because the eight-by-ten-inch panels are lightweight and require no power. Although the screens are monochrome, the important element is not color, but rather luminance, Popular Mechanics reports. E-ink is important because the screens can adjust at a rapid pace, and the tech would not majorly add to the cost of a drone. Plextek switched to drones after realizing that trying to cover the surface area of a military vehicle with e-ink panels was a precarious endeavor.

Unfortunately, current versions require manual adjustment. In the future, the company hopes to include cameras to detect the drone’s background.

Initial tests during the spring involved a static drone mounted on a pole, but now that Plextek is working with scientists from Southampton University, the team should be able to drop the weight of the panels and integrate them into the wings. This might make it possible for the wings to be translucent.

The technology does not offer actual invisibility. Rather, it’s meant to disguise small drones from human observation. Given the fact that these drones are largely silent, added active camouflage will make them that much more difficult to detect from the ground.

Plextek is by no means the first group looking at drone invisibility technology. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego have published an article showing that it’s possible to cover a drone in a non-absorptive Teflon sheet, making the drone look flat. It also manipulates electromagnetic waves by scattering them, which makes the drone hard to detect either visually or by radar. The Department of Defense has taken a close interest in the work.

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