“Invisibility” cloaks – coming soon or already here?

The chameleon changes color to match its surroundings–the original stealth camouflage technology. Photo: Rob Hooft, CC some rights reserved

There’s a new camouflage fabric getting some press recently, with semi-sensational headlines that use the word “invisible”.

Sounds like Sci-Fi or Harry Potter magic, right?

Articles about this particular camouflage fabric come with photos that purportedly show what it can do. Looks can deceive but it does appear fairly amazing. This particular product apparently involves bending light and is made by a Canadian company out of B.C. called HyperStealth.

Wired Magazine has an article about how company founder (and former professional paintballer) Guy Cramer got annoyed with the cost and design of existing camouflage and tried to do better. The Atlantic also features Cramer in an 2011 article called Invisible Inc. Again, interesting photos, concepts and developments.

Mind you, who can trust photos anymore? My husband wasted no time “erasing” extra tourists in some photos taken on our recent visit to photogenic Hopewell Rocks. These days it’s simple enough to do a Stalin purge, or a wrinkle/fat removal, to suit the desired end. The company’s own website states:

(note the photos on this page do not show the real technology – they are mockups to show the media the concept)

I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s clearly unwise to just go by images, or swallow every claim that comes along, right?

My thought on seeing the initial article was “Hmm, it would be fun to explore subject that without seeming to shill for any particular company.” So, let’s branch out.

Invisibility, in my mind, has always meant becoming see-through, translucent. Almost, non-material, in a visible sense, at least. Something that seems likely to stay in the realm of imagination and special effects.

But if invisible simply means blending in and not being seen, well, that seems to be coming along in leaps and bounds.

Why is the concept of being invisible so attractive anyway? Maybe it’s just the “wow, that would be cool” factor. Beyond that, it’s easy to see invisibility being applied to activities that range from benign, to unethical, to frightfully criminal.

It bears remembering that identifying something a buyer really, really wants can spur invention – or fuel a lot of fraud and wasted spending. (Note: This line of comment has nothing to do with HyperStealth products. Rather, in general terms, one simply needs to be aware of bias that can sway judgement.)

In fiction, I recall a splendid novel with a sub-plot of just that sort of thing, December 6, by Martin Cruz Smith (2002).

Set in Tokyo on the cusp of WW II, Harry Niles, a son of missionaries with an almost feral childhood in Japan, is trying to figure if someone has really discovered how to manufacture oil. Or transform material into oil? Something alchemy like that. (Sorry, it’s been years since I read the book and some details have blurred. )

Here’s a review that should entice. (Beware, it contains a few plot spoilers.)

Is the oil experiment a con, or an amazing scientific leap that could help Japan defeat the mighty U.S.? Military figures are more than interested, for obvious reasons. Scrappy Harry has to stay alive long enough to juggle a fair number of jigsaw pieces – before there’s no escape. (It’s a great book, as are any by that author.)

That sidebar is offered up as a “buyer beware” caveat. Alchemists, hucksters and spiritualists have done well living off wish-fulfillment.

Having said that, someday we all may need devices to detect invisibility, just to stay safe from lurkers hidden around us, once these cloaks are real. (Between drones and invisibile cloaks, is this getting too creepy?)

Meanwhile, my husband is still waiting for his flying car – when he’s not erasing hapless strangers from the vistas of our vacation photos.

What’s your definition of invisible? Is that possible – or desirable?

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2 Comments on ““Invisibility” cloaks – coming soon or already here?”

  1. Michael Greer says:

    I’m with your husband on the flying car thing. I’ve been waiting to live like the Jetson’s since I was a kid, but here in Potsdam, we’re still in Mayberry. The problem lies in how much we (our society) choose to spend where…Imagine where the world would be if we hadn’t collectively decided to fight the cold war. Now, instead of nukes, it’s drones, and laying off teachers will never lead to a bright future.
    Sometimes invisibility is a state of mind. I have known people who could walk into a place, observe, and depart without ever being noticed. No magic required, just a silent state of composure. There are a million things that go un-noticed all the time…try deer hunting some time.

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  2. Walker says:

    One word: crock!

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