The art of camouflage, part 2

FOB spoke to Professor Andrea di Falco, head of the Synthetic Optics research group at Scotland’s University of St Andrews who published a paper in 2010 about these “metamaterials” which absorb or bend light and/or radar waves.

“Perfect invisibility is not practically possible,” he explained. “We can reduce colours and reduce the direction of the light but only on fairly small things, no bigger than a postage stamp. A mantle would be too big,” he stated.

Invisibility technology is still in its infancy so snipers will have to make do with this kind of camouflage for quite a while yet

Invisibility technology is still in its infancy so snipers will have to make do with this kind of camouflage for quite a while yet

Di Falco explained that scientists have managed to reroute light in certain materials such as glass so that you could conceal iron bars in glass by turning transparent glass into frosted glass. And he mentioned something that sounds very close to the idea behind the Vatec product: “carpet cloaking.” He explained that this basically meant “the carpet, made out of a material that can look like its surroundings, has a bump under which you can conceal things. It looks flat but is not.”

An octopus takes on the colour of the coral reef it is resting in

An octopus takes on the colour of the coral reef it is resting in

 

 

Dynamic camouflage, on the other hand, is trying to mimic the way a chameleon or a squid can change skin colour thanks to pigment-rich chromatophore cells that react to external factors and makes them blend in with their environment and thus fool predators.

A September 2014 paper published by Xuanhe Zhao’s team at MIT (Massachussetts Institute of Technology) described the development of a flexible material that can change colour and texture by remote control. However the number of colours and shapes are extremely limited for the moment although the team states that these could be expanded in the future.

This is how meta-materials might work

This is how meta-materials might work

However, Bill Boothby, former deputy director of the Royal Air Force’s legal services, warned in his book “Weapons and the Law of Armed Conflict” published in 2009 by Oxford University Press, that some of these military camouflage techniques could violate the Geneva conventions regarding disguising equipment or soldiers’ weapons.

Under article 37 of the 1949 Geneva conventions, camouflage, decoys, mock operations and misinformation are all permitted. But, he suggested that wearing an invisibility uniform might breach a combatant’s obligation to have a fixed distinctive sign recognisable at a distance and to carry arms openly.

Meanwhile, Guy Cramer of Canada’s Hyperstealth Biotechnology Corp. in Maple Ridge, B.C. has become a world leader in the art of camouflage design. Armies from New Zealand to the United States, Mexico to Jordan, Jamaica to Afghanistan and countless others have all chosen Cramer’s digital designs.

This Hyperstealth pattern was designed  for South Africa and is still being tried out, according to the company's website

This Hyperstealth pattern was designed for South Africa and is still being tried out, according to the company’s website

 

However, you won’t see the best ones on the company website because as he told Canadian daily The Globe and Mail in September 2012: “We’re not going to show our competitors our best stuff on our website, but if you’re a tier-one or tier-two special forces group, we’ve got a whole different library for you to look at.” And amongst those things are a product he has named “Quantum Stealth” which incorporates light-bending technology into a screen. He claims that “if you were to take a picture of the material within the environment, and one with the material not in the picture, they would look almost identical. And if there was someone standing behind Quantum Stealth you would not see anyone at all. That’s what the material does, it bends light right around, so you’re seeing what’s behind the target, not the target itself.”

This is mock-up of the "Quantum Stealth" material with Cramer's assistant behind it. According to the company website "no cameras and no projectors are used. These photos are to show the Media the concept, for security issues we can not show the actual technology. With the real material - you would only see about 5% of the shadow on her and the ground as we've determined a 95% reduction of shadow in testing."

This is mock-up of the “Quantum Stealth” material with Cramer’s assistant behind it. According to the company website “no cameras and no projectors are used. These photos are to show the Media the concept, for security issues we can not show the actual technology. With the real material – you would only see about 5% of the shadow on her and the ground as we’ve determined a 95% reduction of shadow in testing.”