If you thought that invisibility cloaks were just for wizards, or indeed humans, think again. BAE Systems is working together with the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration (FMV) on an invisibility cloak system that can hide a BAE Systems CV90 tank within its surroundings.

The Adaptiv design works by using sheets of hexagonal pixels that acclimatise very quickly to changes in temperature. Onboard cameras pick up the background scenery and broadcast the image onto the pixels in infra-red, which enables even a moving tank to match its surroundings.

The tank that wanted to be a four-wheel drive

BAE Systems also claim that their new patented technology will be able to mimic other vehicles and display identification tags, therefore reducing the possibility of friendly fire. 

While research is primarily focused on the infra-red spectrum, BAE Systems’ engineers are combining the pixels with other technologies to provide all-round stealth, which continue to be developed. Recent trials in July showed that one side of a CV90 could be made effectively invisible or appear to be another object, including a 4x4 vehicle, when viewed in the infra-red spectrum.

"Earlier attempts at similar cloaking devices have hit problems because of cost, excessive power requirements or because they were insufficiently robust,” said Adaptiv project manager Peder Sjölund.  “Our panels can be made so strong that they provide useful armour protection and consume relatively low levels of electricity, especially when the vehicle is at rest in 'stealth recce' mode and generator output is low."

Sjölund believes that it would be possible in the future to hide even objects as big as a ship or a building."We can resize the pixels to achieve stealth for different ranges. A warship or building, for instance, might not need close-up stealth, so could be fitted with larger panels,” he said.

Invisibility cloak research to date

 Research into making a real functional invisibility cloak for humans continues, although they are currently limited to the specific type of technology and area of the light spectrum they are investigating. 

Scientists at the University of Tokyo have developed optical camouflage technology which films your surroundings and turns your body into a green screen that projects images, while the University of California has developed a cloaking device made out of sophisticated artificial materials called metamaterials that work with the full spectrum of light visible to the human eye.

The metamaterials alter the behaviour of the light that hits it, which is different to previous invisibility cloaks, which could only work by limiting the reflection of electromagnetic waves or cancelling out the electromagnetic properties displayed by the object being hidden.

Are invisible vehicles and infrastructure viable in daily life, or will they only be limited to warfare? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.