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Harry Potter's invisibility cloak could become reality with South Korean stealth tech

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Dec 8, 2020, 10:10 PM EST (Updated)

One of the coolest magical items in Harry Potter's arsenal of wizarding paraphernalia is the invisibility cloak he receives anonymously from Albus Dumbledore on his birthday in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, which allows The Boy Who Lived to sneak into rooms and hallways without detection due to the garment's ability to bestow a state of total vanishment.

Though modern technology isn't quite there yet, a new invention by researchers in South Korea is making an important advancement toward that fantastical goal of rendering a person invisible or near-invisible to the naked eye.

According to Defense One, scientists have been developing an interesting artificial skin that behaves as a sort of active camouflage to let military personnel and field soldiers effortlessly blend in with their immediate surroundings. This shroud would be effectively invisible to normal cameras, but also works to bewilder infra-red night vision equipment too.

Credit: Seung Hwan Ko et al./Seoul National University

As revealed in a research paper recently published in the online journal Advanced Functional Materials, the special covering is able to blend in and camouflage itself, and in the process, cool down or heat up according to the nature of its surrounding territory, thereby potentially making combat soldiers of the near future hard to identify by traditional thermal imaging optics. 

The keys to the perceived magic are the individual pixels which comprise the device, with each containing thermochromic liquid crystals that make them change hues in response to external surroundings. The chameleon-like bendable patches utilize temperature fluctuations to mimic visible-spectrum colors and thermal signatures they are in close proximity to.

According to the study co-authored by Professor Seung Hwan Ko at Seoul National University, the engineered, color-matching squares crafted out of these crystals react to hot and cold, “thus allowing the generation of a diverse number of colors by controlling temperature. The cloaking in the visible range is therefore achieved separately by matching the ambient color.”

To demonstrate its unique properties, researchers placed a broad patch on a human hand and passed it across a multi-colored background within a range of different temperatures.

“As the hand moves across different backgrounds (whether it is a visible or [Infrared] cloaking mode)...each pixel sequentially switches its color/temperature based on their relative positions,” Professor Ko noted

Credit: Seung Hwan Ko et al./Seoul National University

Professor Ko's team looked toward Mother Nature for influence on their imperceptible project, especially the distinctive cloaking properties of cephalopods like a cuttlefish, squid, and octopus. Their disappearing suit is still unable to detect exact colors around it, but this obstacle is currently being overcome by inputting each color manually.

“However, we recently developed a method to detect and mimic the environment by integrating a micro camera with our devices to make an autonomously working device,” Professor Ko explained.

Until the methods are perfected with further research trials and advanced prototypes, don't forget that there's always the trusty Disillusionment Charm to magically hide yourself from prying eyes!