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Tech by VICE

The White House Hosted a Google Hangout to Find the Next Real-Life Superhero Tech

Invisibility cloaks, synthetic skin, and Batman-esque grappling hooks were on display as the White House used social media to introduce the world to the weapons of the future.

by Erik Franco
Jul 19 2013, 7:20pm

The Atlas Devices Power Ascender can lift up to 600 lbs.

Images: Screenshots from Google Hangout

With San Diego Comic-Con as its theme, the White House is using science to try to build a real-life superhero. So went the theme, at least, when earlier today the White House's official YouTube channel hosted a Google Hangout showcasing five scientists working on future materials and technologies "seemingly ripped straight from the pages of a comic book or movie script."

The livestream was part of an ongoing series hosted by Tom Kalil and Meredith Drosback from the Obama administration's Materials Genome Initiative. The panel featured scientists whose research is helping bring to fruition "real-life superpowers" like self-healing synthetic skin, invisibility cloaks, and liquid armor.

Mechanical engineer Nate Ball of Atlas Devices demoed his company's Batman-like Atlas Power Ascender, which they currently supply to the military.

"Most of us are familiar with how Batman gets out of trouble—he takes his grappling hook and shoots it up to the ceiling—we build that for the military, and they use it for actual rescue," he said.

Nathan Landy, a graduate student at Duke University, is working on metamaterial and invisibility. Today, he detailed his latest invisibility cloak. As of now, the type of cloak Landy has developed deals strictly with light that's not visible to the human eye—so it's not quite the type of invisibility cloak you're probably imagining. Not yet.

"I wish I could say it's off because you can actually see it," Landy said.

While visible to us, Landy's cloak is invisible to radar atennas, causing light to diffuse around itself as if nothing were there.

A highlight though of the cringeworthy-titled livestream (#WeTheGeeks, really?) was Stanford engineer Zhenan Bao's self-healing and touch-sensitive translucent skin, a compound that required Bao to put on gloves before handling it. Her team turned their research focus to developing the polymer skin after getting inspiration from X-men.

"Materials science is what allows us to make things become real, straight out of the comic books," Landy explained.

You can watch an archived version of the panel below.

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