Aircraft and military manufacturer Boeing has been granted a patent on a system that is designed to prevent explosion shockwaves from harming a target.
Michelle StarrScience editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
As it is described, the system is not designed to prevent direct impact from shells or shrapnel; rather, it is designed to protect a target -- such as a vehicle or building -- from the damaging effects of shockwaves from a nearby impact.
The patent is for a shockwave attenuation system, which consists of a sensor capable of detecting a shockwave-generating explosion and an arc generator that receives the signal from the sensor to ionise a small region, producing a plasma field between the target and the explosion using lasers, electricity and microwaves.
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This small plasma field would differ from the surrounding environment in temperature, density and/or composition. This would provide a buffer between the target and the explosion that would hinder the shockwaves from reaching and damaging the target.
"Such embodiments as described above may reduce the energy density of the shockwave by creating a second medium in the path of the advancing shockwave that reflects, refracts, absorbs and deflects at least a portion of the shockwave," the patent reads.
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Because this system heats and ionises the air, it is eminently unsuitable for enveloping a target and being held in place for any length of time. That kind of force field is technically feasible -- physics students last year determined that an electromagnetic field could by used to hold a plasma shield in place -- but it would likely also deflect light, leaving anyone inside blind as a bat.