With an annual research budget of several billion dollars, IBM has plenty to spare for moonshot experiments such as its recently revealed effort to bring DRAM technology to production, but the latest addition to the roster is in a league all of its own. Engineers at its optics group have developed a cloaking device that promises to conceal objects both in motion and and at rest.
That’s according to one of its newest patent filings, which details a complicated stealth matrix made up of numerous compact transmitters spread along one or more sides of an object that each connects to a sensor on the other end. In the most basic configuration, that sensor is a camera relaying an image of the background to a corresponding display on the front.
It’s the same concept that Mercedes-Benz implemented with off-the-shelf LEDs and camera equipment a few years ago to turn its newest F-Cell hydrogen car invisible for an advertising campaign. The difference is that every recorder-transmitter pair in IBM’s matrix is pre-configured so that the electrical signal representing the image feed is automatically outputted in the desired form.
In other words, there is no need for a computer to convert the raw data into a format that the display on the other end of the wire can parse which effectively makes every stealth node a self-contained unit. And that in turn gives the technology all the properties needed to operate under combat conditions, starting with modularity.
In a future scenario where a tank breaks a few of its stealth nodes after hitting something during patrol, the fact each unit comes pre-configured would enable a member of the crew to hop out and quickly cover up the exposed surface with minimal setup. That avoids the need to circle back to base after every minor hitch, greatly increasing the number of vehicles that can be out and about any given time.
The improvement to operational availability increases even further when you factor in the time saved on more serious repairs, which can also be performed faster thanks to the modular nature of IBM’s design. That stands to benefit all branches of the military, with the patent filing detailing that the stealth matrix can be adapted to protect platforms against radar and even sonar detection.
IBM likely sees its stealth matrix used to complement rather than replace the more conventional cloaking mechanisms incorporated into modern platforms like the Zumwalt-class missile destroyer. But given the lack of so much as an official acknowledgement of the project from the company, which is usually quite happy to attract publicity to its experiments, the technology may only start finding use in the next generation of military hardware.