How Invisibility Cloaks Work

Optical Camouflage: Real-world Invisibility Applications
While an invisibility cloak is an interesting application of optical camouflage, it's probably not the most useful one. Learn about some real-world applications.
While an invisibility cloak is an interesting application of optical camouflage, it's probably not the most useful one. Learn about some real-world applications.

The words "invisibility cloak" tends to summon images of fantastic adventure, magical espionage and otherworldly deception. The actual applications for optical camouflage, however, are far less out there. You can forget hiding your Romulan starship or hanging out in the lady wizards' dormitory, but that doesn't mean there aren't a number of viable uses for the technology.

For instance, pilots landing a plane could use this technology to make cockpit floors transparent. This would enable them to see the runway and the landing gear simply by glancing down at the floor (which would display the view from the outside of the fuselage) Similarly, drivers wouldn't have to deal with mirrors and blind spots. Instead, they could just "look through" the entire rear of the vehicle. The technology even boasts potential applications in the medical field, as surgeons could use optical camouflage to see through their hands and instruments for an unobstructed view of the underlying tissue.

Interestingly enough, one possible application of this technology actually revolves around making objects more visible. The concept is called mutual telexistence and essentially involves projecting a remote user's appearance onto a robot coated in retro-reflective material. Say a surgeon were operating on a patient via remote control robotic surgery. Mutual telexistence would provide the human doctors assisting the procedure with the perception that they're working with another human instead of a machine.

Right now, mutual telexistence is science fiction, but scientists continue to push the boundaries of the technology. For example, pervasive gaming is already becoming a reality. Pervasive gaming extends gaming experiences out into the real world, whether on city streets or in remote wilderness. Players with mobile displays move through the world while sensors capture information about their environment, including their location. This information delivers a gaming experience that changes according to where users are and what they are doing.

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