This article originally appeared on Motherboard.
Light-bending invisibility cloaks are on the horizon, and China wants to be the first to vanish in them. Image: Wikimedia
China really, really wants an invisibility cloak. Who doesn't? But few nations have China's unique combination of a booming economy, a thirst for scientific R&D, and a powerful central government. As such, the state has bankrolled more than 40 separate research efforts over the last three years, all aimed at developing technology that intends to quite literally render people and objects invisible.
Forty. That's how many so-called invisibility cloaks the state-approved South China Morning Post reports China is currently pursuing. It's certainly a lot of effort and resources to pour into a technology that's still more fantasy than feasible, but, given the US government's own support of similar "invisibility" tech, it's enough to get pundits and American newspapers to claim the two countries are locked in a "race." Sometimes even a "race to the finish line."
The finish line being, supposedly, an invisibility cloak that does what it does in comic books, or what the Chinese government describes as "full invisibility." Right now, the best invisibility cloaks we have can render the wearer undetectable only to radio or microwaves; some can bend and scatter light around them to make the wearer slightly less visible to onlookers. Those cloaks, which employ meta-materials made from synthetic textiles, have some serious problems—while they "cloak" a user from one wavelength, they can make them even more visible on another.
Improvements are being made, but we're a long ways off from anything that would seriously hide a person—or a piece of military equipment—from view in plain sight. Which is what China explicitly wants to do. Here, according to the Morning Post, are a few of the most promising "invisibility cloak" projects China is working on.
The Pet Cloaker
Less a cloak and more an "invisibility capsule," this stationary light-bending tech is apparently best suited for adorable domestic pets. It has already made a cat and some goldfish sort-of disappear:
A team led by Professor Chen Hongsheng at Zhejiang University released a video last month demonstrating a device that made fish invisible. The same technology also apparently made a cat "disappear". The device was made of a hexagonal array of glass-like panels, which obscure the object from view by bending light around it.
The Hypersonic Jet with "Full Invisibility" That Launches Nuclear Warheads "At Least 5X Faster" Than the Speed of Sound
NASA scramjet, soon to be cloaked by Chinese tech. Image: Wikimedia
Perhaps the polar opposite in invisibility cloak applications, we go from making domestic pets charmingly vanish to nuke-loaded hypersonic jets that will ideally have "full invisibility":
A team at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, for instance, was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China to develop "full invisibility" technology and material for hypersonic jets similar to NASA's X-43A scramjet. The hypersonic vehicle could be used to delivered nuclear warheads around the globe with speed at least five times faster than sound.
For additional uses for this new technology, read more at Motherboard.com.