“Shields Up!” It’s a familiar refrain for science-fiction aficionados. From Star Trek to Dune to Independence Day invisible shields of energy that protect ships, buildings, or individuals from attack have been a staple of Geekdom from its very inception. But now this science fiction is headed quickly towards becoming science fact. I explain how in this the inaugural edition of We Can Do That Now!
Work on real-life force fields is nothing new. After all more than one generation of scientists has grown up having to choose a side in the never-ending battle between the Force and the Federation. However to this point most of the work concerning force fields has been associated with interstellar travel. The designs are mostly meant to create a simulated atmosphere/magnetosphere similar to Earth’s own in order to protect potential astronauts and their equipment from radiation and other harmful particles they may encounter. To date there were no known programs to have achieved any success or notoriety of a more earthbound variety.
That all changed this year when the US Patent Office approved a patent submitted by Boeing back in 2012. The patent outlines a “system for shock wave attenuation via electromagnetic arc”. Which I have to say sounds way less cool than it actually is.
The patent describes a device that would be attached to a vehicle and would be capable of sensing a nearby explosion. When a shockwave inducing explosion is sensed the system uses an arc generator (very Tony Stark) to emit laser pulses that ionize the air, protecting the vehicle from potential shockwaves via a plasma field of its own making.
Clearly this is designed as a means by which the US and its allies can protect their military convoys from IED’s and it still has some holes. The system can protect from concussive waves but not physical objects meaning that any vehicle carrying it would still be susceptible to the shrapnel emanating from a nearby explosive device as well as from a direct hit from a targeted strike from a rocket propelled weapon.
Still this is a huge step forward and indicates that we should begin to see civilian applications of this technology in the next ten to twenty years. Which is super cool.
So in conclusion Force Fields, We Can Do That Now!
*Here is a link to the patent if you want to take a look: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8981261.PN.&OS=PN/8981261&RS=PN/8981261