Singapore team's 'invisibility cloak' makes small objects and animals 'disappear' from sight

NTU scientist Zhang Baile putting his fingers into the new "invisibility cloak", showing how it can hide heat signatures, making objects undetectable, even with thermal imaging (left).
NTU scientist Zhang Baile putting his fingers into the new "invisibility cloak", showing how it can hide heat signatures, making objects undetectable, even with thermal imaging.PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, XU HONGYI AND ZHANG BAILE
NTU scientist Zhang Baile putting his fingers into the new "invisibility cloak", showing how it can hide heat signatures, making objects undetectable, even with thermal imaging (left).
NTU scientist Zhang Baile putting his fingers into the new "invisibility cloak", showing how it can hide heat signatures, making objects undetectable, even with thermal imaging (above).PHOTOS: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES, XU HONGYI AND ZHANG BAILE

Innovation can make object undetectable even by thermal cameras or night vision goggles

A Singapore-based scientist and his team have managed to come up with an invisibility cloak that can make small objects and animals "disappear" from sight in daylight, and even make them undetectable to surveillance devices in the dark.

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) scientist Zhang Baile and his team have followed up their research three years ago, which led to the creation of a cloak that uses precisely angled blocks of glass to bend light around an object in the centre, making it "invisible" and allowing one to see only what is behind it.

Their new innovation works in the same way, but with a tweak that could make it useful in defence and security applications.

For example, it may be possible in future to make a soldier doing reconnaissance at night undetectable to an enemy who relies on devices to see in the dark. The glass cloak hides anything that emits heat - making the object undetectable to the likes of thermal cameras or night vision goggles.

"This is a step forward. No matter what device you use, it can hide the object," said Dr Zhang, an assistant physics professor at NTU.

"We were joking that one day, you can probably go to a safari park and approach a lion or a tiger without being noticed."

The 35-year-old has been doing research in the area for about a decade and has been interested in the idea of invisibility since he was a child.

"I think every kid has a passion towards this kind of super power," he said. "In the beginning, we spent a few years solving some of the theoretical problems.

"It is fascinating. If I can do this research and keep young people interested in science and inspire them, then I think this is worth doing."

However, Dr Zhang admitted the research is still at an early stage. Currently, the new cloak can hide objects only from one direction.

Dr Xu Hongyi, a 28-year-old researcher on the team, said that making the cloak omni-directional "remains one of our goals".

Dr Zhang added that this would be a challenge. "We don't know how many directions we can extend to. We want to push the limits. But there are many problems we have to solve at the fundamental level," he said.

For now, the idea of donning such a cloak and making one invisible remains a distant fantasy.

"There is a long way to go before it can be achieved," he said. "People have thought of it for hundreds of years. We should be patient."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 07, 2016, with the headline 'S'pore team's 'invisibility cloak' levels up'. Print Edition | Subscribe