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How to Become Invisible 336

mdm42 writes "Looks like a theoretical physicist at St. Andrews University in Scotland believes that invisibility may be possible. And its not going to be a potion or a cloak, but will come in the form of a device. " Let's just hope that when the invisible woman arrives, she's played more convincingly than Jessica Alba.
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How to Become Invisible

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  • by schon ( 31600 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:17AM (#15831693)
    Nothing for you to see here. Please move along.

    A story on invisibility, and /. tells me there's nothing to see.

  • by Vengeance ( 46019 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:17AM (#15831700)
    This is Mr. E.R. Bradshaw of Napier Court, Black Lion Road London SE5. He can not be seen. Now I am going to ask him to stand up. Mr. Bradshaw will you stand up please

    In the distance Mr Bradshaw stands up. There is a loud gunshot as Mr Bradshaw is shot in the stomach. He crumples to the ground

    This demonstrates the value of not being seen.
  • by winkydink ( 650484 ) * <> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:19AM (#15831715) Homepage Journal
    "I'm invisible!" convincingly enough. It worked for Burt in Soap.

    Whippersnappers: Look it up.
    • "I'm invisible!" convincingly enough.

      Actually, speaking isn't required. The actual technique is waving your hands in front of you and then snap your fingers.

      Of course, it doesn't work when you're wet.
    • It only works is you wave your arms in a certain way while saying it. A somatic component, if you will.

      (I could never catch the last part of that, though, as Burt was invisible during that part of the gesture)
  • by PIPBoy3000 ( 619296 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:19AM (#15831724)
    All it takes is a suitably large gravity well. Black holes have been doing this since the dawn of time.

    But seriously, all the new light bending materials I've been reading about look neat, but seem to be focused on certain wavelengths. Broad spectrum invisibility will likely be pretty tough.
    • by xtracto ( 837672 )
      But then I presume that the person inside the field would not be able to see a thing, if you were inside the field force you would be inside a black "universe". Interesting uh?
      • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:42AM (#15831925) Journal
        Of course, if you bend all light around you, there's no light hitting your eyes. That's BTW also the main fault of the invisibility concept in movies and stories: The people get completely invisible, but they can still see just like normal. But to see like normal, the light has to be fist bent by your eye's lense, and then absorbed by your eye's retina. Which should make at least your eyes visible quite well. Of course that's no problem with magic (magic can override all laws of nature anyway), but it's clearly a problem if the invisibility shall be achieved by a physical effect.
        • That is one thing I love about the Recluce saga by Modesitt Jr. When he has a character go invisible by using the "Order/Chaos magic" of the world, they cannot see... such realism keeps me coming back even though it is in something like the 13th or 14th book! If you haven't read anything by this Author, I highly, highly, recoomend it.
        • If nothing's visible but your eyes, then you're still 99.99% invisible. Hell of a lot better than 100% visible.
        • hence a near perfect solution would make everything except an area the size of the pupils 100% invisible, and the small area 95% invisible, then on the inside of the field amplify the remaining 5% (or less) of the light in that area to allow vision (possibly 99% and 1%? or even more extreme depending on how much you can amplify the remaining light)

          sure you'd still have a "detectable" presence in the area used to see, however it would be a very small area, and even it would only be a slight distortion, the o
    • We do movie Physics presentations at my school each semester and Fan4 was one of them last semester. The calculations were comical and we showed that for her to possess the needed gravity, she would have more mass than our planet in Alba's frame. Furthermore, she would of been attracting (with gravity) everything around her. As far as Physics, this movie was one of the worst.
      • Furthermore, she would of been attracting (with gravity) everything around her.

        Exactly were I was going! If she had the mass to curve light she might not be visible but you would feel her presence. Assuming it would last long enough to feel it. The painful crushing sensation that is. Talking about not seeing the train coming.
  • by mdmarkus ( 522132 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:20AM (#15831732)
    You mean there's more to invisibility than just talking to women?
  • Finally... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Bomarrow1 ( 903375 ) * <> on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:20AM (#15831734) Homepage
    I can look into a mirror...
  • and even if it was possible, we'd be blind while we were invisible. invisible means that there is no light to reflect off of us so that other people can see us. however, if there is no light to reflect off of us, there is no light to reflect off of our eyes, which means we can't see.
    • by 99BottlesOfBeerInMyF ( 813746 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:29AM (#15831806)

      true invisibility is impossible

      Not really. It can be done and probably will be done some day. It is just not as simple or work the same way bad sci-fi shows portray it.

      and even if it was possible, we'd be blind while we were invisible.

      Yes, but this is a solvable problem as well. Bend visible wavelengths of light around, but not infrared and wear infrared goggles. Or bend light around everywhere except a pinhole too small to be visible, but which is used to generate a view outside the cloak like a pinhole camera does. Or transmit an image from a small device outside the cloak. The hard part is redirecting the light properly. Once that is solved, the rest is a lesser problem.

      • by swb ( 14022 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:45AM (#15832477)
        Even if you don't pass IR into the invisibility field, there's still likely to be detectable elements of the heat signature or other items radiated/expelled from the cloak that it still wouldn't render you undetectable. Ie, if I made a vehicle visually invisible its still likely to emit exhaust or a big EMF field from electric motors, people breathe, exhaling heat and CO2, etc.

        "Invisibility" as defined as not providing a reflected-light image is the least significant part of the problem without also providing some way of eliminating other physical detection. It might be useful if you were cloaking a sealed, inanimate object that had no EMF or other signatures detectable, but I'm not sure it'd be cost effective against other low-tech methods for simply hiding something or otherwise camouflaging it.
    • Yes, a generally understoof problem. Though allowing a limited amount of light through would generally be enough to see while not destroying the effect. Think one way mirrors some light goes through but do you notice it.
      • by Chmcginn ( 201645 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:17AM (#15832266) Journal
        It would depend on the conditions, though - in a rural setting, letting 95% of the light through would be fine at any reasonable distance (20-50 ft or so) - the slight distortion of colors or bending of a line isn't too easy to spot when colors are gradient and lines are curves.

        In an urban setting, though, you'd be more likely to notice the distortion around a 95% invisible object if it was passing between you and a straight line, like the edge of a building, or making one portion of the car across the street appear a different color.

        But combined with current stealth techniques (sticking to shadows, stay in buildings, etc.) this would be a tremendous advantage to the equipped force. Probably not quite as much as, say, power armor [], but DARPA's got money going into that, too.

  • by Klaidas ( 981300 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:21AM (#15831745)
    If you replace the water with light then you would not see that there was something present because the light is guided around the person or object.

    Sure, who would find a human-sized-walking-lightbulb suspicious? :)
  • by RyanFenton ( 230700 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:24AM (#15831766)
    If a device is made to either redirect light, or detect light in the environment, absorb it and then project light to match it, then there will be some delay necissary in the process, because you can't send out information before you observe it.

    Don't know how significant it would be, but that could result in a slight disjointed projection of the area behind you if you were made 'invisible' with such a device, most observable when one moves.

    Thus, the more apt movie reference would be Predator.

    Ryan Fenton

    • Yah, that seems resonable.

      Perhaps this is a problem with the rock in water analogy but I wonder if it applies to bending light as well. When water flows around a rock, turbulance is created that can be seen from all sides even if you can't see the rock. The further you get from the rock, the less visible the turbulance is. This is true even if the viewer is at or below the plane of the water/air interface. Would a similar principle apply here as well, I wonder?
    • With modern technology you'd be talking about less that a millisecond delay. It simply wouldn't be noticable to the human eye, though your inner sense might know something is wrong. This would definatly be detectable by a computer though, atleast if the object was moving.
    • by The Fun Guy ( 21791 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:52AM (#15831999) Homepage Journal
      because you can't send out information before you observe it.

      Clearly, you are new [] to Slashdot.
  • by tezbobobo ( 879983 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:26AM (#15831780) Homepage Journal
    Yes, they've made 15 prototypes so far. They just can't get past the testing stage. Keep losing them.
  • And all this time I thought invisibility would be done by using a magic potion like in AD&D. I guess I lose that bet.
  • Mystery Men proves that invisibility exists already, especially if noone (including yourself) is watching.

    Heck, most of /. audience is invisible to the opposite sex.
  • python... (Score:2, Funny)

    by FrontalLobe ( 897758 )
    I think Monty Python made being invisible unnecessary with their "How not to be seen" skit.
    Just don't hide behind a single shrub in the middle of a field...
  • Keep in mind that by bending light around an object, you're preventing that light from being visible to anyone/anything within the field. Essentially, when you were "cloaked", you'd also be blind.

    So, there go the recreational usages of such technology... :)

    • Unless, of course, it was like a one-way mirror - lets about 5% of the light through. If you were completely incased, your eyes would quickly adjust to your new light level - in daytime, it would still be much brighter than being inside your house with a 50-watt bulb.
  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:32AM (#15831834) Journal
    "It is very likely that the demonstration for radar would come first and very soon."

    And this experiment will be done with a ship in Philadelphia?
  • Invisibility is already possible. The underlying principle behind it is not technological or mystical but sociological. See the works of Ralph Ellison ("Invisible Man"), Kate Clinton ("In Search of the Invisible Lesbian"), and Grant Morrison ("The Invisibles") for more info.
  • Is it just me... (Score:2, Interesting)

    ... or does anyone else hope this information would become classified if it ever became a reality? If the technology was ever released (or the specifics and not the actual tech) there could be potential for multi million dollar heists and no one would be able to find out. Heck, the way they're talking, it's ALL light that would be manipulated, meaning there would be absolutely no way to track a person who was using it.
    • I don't know - I'd assume that a simple invisibility device wouldn't affect a person's left behind fingerprints? Or hair for DNA analysis? Criminals are often pretty stupid, even if they appear smart - it's mostly the forgotten detail that trips them up.

      An invisibility device might make the actual heist easier through making yourself invisible to say, a surveillance camera, but other clues would still be there. Criminals were caught and put in jail long before security cameras were invented.
  • by mdielmann ( 514750 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:36AM (#15831857) Homepage Journal
    So all I gotta do is carry a black hole in my pocket. That's gotta suck...
  • Turbulence? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scdeimos ( 632778 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:37AM (#15831876)

    Invisibility is an optical illusion that the object or person is not there. Leonhardt uses the example of water circling around a stone. The water flows in, swirls around the stone and then leaves as if nothing was there.

    "If you replace the water with light then you would not see that there was something present because the light is guided around the person or object. You would see the light coming from the scenery behind as if there was nothing in front," he said.

    I wonder if this is BadAnalogyGuy [] in disguise? :)

    A most people will have actually seen water flowing around a rock in a creek or a stream will attest, the water doesn't just leave as if nothing was there: there's all sorts of turbulence, especially leaving visibile waves on the surface and even a trail of bubbles if there is sufficient flow to cause aeration.

  • believes that invisibility may be possible

    For decades, many science fiction fans around the world have believed invisibility *may* be possible.

  • Scientist thinks commercial fusion energy may be possible in future...

    Scientist thinks arresting the aging process may be possible in future...

    Scientist thinks space colonies may be possible in future...

    Scientist thinks flying cars may be possible in future...

    etc. etc. etc.
  • by travalas ( 853279 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:45AM (#15831953) Homepage
    The technology involved in making anything invisible is so infinitely complex that nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand million, nine hundred and ninety-nine million, nine hundred and ninety-nine thousand, nine hundred and ninety-nine times out of a billion it is much simpler and more effective just to take the thing away and do without it. The ultra-famous sciento-magician Effrafax of Wug once bet his life that, given a year, he could render the great megamountain Magramal entirely invisible. Having spent most of the year jiggling around with immense LuxO-Valves and Refracto-Nullifiers and Spectrum-Bypass-O-Matics, he realized, with nine hours to go, that he wasn't going to make it. So, he and his friends, and his friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends, and his friends' friends' friends' friends, and some rather less good friends of theirs who happened to own a major stellar trucking company, put in what now is widely recognized as being the hardest night's work in history, and, sure enough, on the following day, Magramal was no longer visible. Effrafax lost his bet - and therefore his life - simply because some pedantic adjudicating official noticed (a) that when walking around the area that Magramal ought to be he didn't trip over or break his nose on anything, and (b) a suspicious-looking extra moon. The Somebody Else's Problem field is much simpler and more effective, and what's more can be run for over a hundred years on a single torch battery. This is because it relies on people's natural disposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain. If Effrafax had painted the mountain pink and erected a cheap and simple Somebody Else's Problem field on it, then people would have walked past the mountain, round it, even over it, and simply never have noticed that the thing was there. -Douglas Adams
  • Let's just hope that when the invisible woman arrives, she's played more convincingly then Jessica Alba.

    Someone needs remedial English to learn the difference between 'then' and 'than'. While one can understand the sentence, it is incorrectly structured. Better, it would read, "Let's just hope that when the invisible woman arrives, she's portrayed more convincingly at that time than by Jessica Alba." Or, "Jessica Alba is hot and should never be invisible."

  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @10:53AM (#15832019) Homepage Journal
    ...properly. Mine couldn't (Firefox 1.5 on Gentoo Linux). I got a bunch of screwed up CSS or something because there was text on top of text. Here's the story, what little there is of a story:

    By Patricia Reaney

    LONDON (Reuters) - It's unlikely to occur by swallowing a pill or donning a special cloak, but invisibility could be possible in the not too distant future, according to research published on Monday.

    Harry Potter accomplished it with his magic cloak. H.G. Wells' Invisible Man swallowed a substance that made him transparent.

    But Dr Ulf Leonhardt, a theoretical physicist at St Andrews University in Scotland, believes the most plausible example is the Invisible Woman, one of the Marvel Comics superheroes in the "Fantastic Four".

    "She guides light around her using a force field in this cartoon. This is what could be done in practice," Leonhardt told Reuters in an interview. "That comes closest to what engineers will probably be able to do in the future."

    Invisibility is an optical illusion that the object or person is not there. Leonhardt uses the example of water circling around a stone. The water flows in, swirls around the stone and then leaves as if nothing was there.

    "If you replace the water with light then you would not see that there was something present because the light is guided around the person or object. You would see the light coming from the scenery behind as if there was nothing in front," he said.

    In the research published in the New Journal of Physics, Leonhardt described the physics of theoretical devices that could create invisibility. It is a follow-up paper to an earlier study published in the journal Science.

    "What the Invisible Woman does is curve space around herself to bend light. What these devices would do is to mimic that curved space," he said.

  • by deft ( 253558 )
    "Let's just hope that when the invisible woman arrives, she's played more convincingly then Jessica Alba"

    Lets just hope that when there actually IS an invisible woman, she won't have to 'play' anything...
  • by The_REAL_DZA ( 731082 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:02AM (#15832099)
    The problem with asking Jessica Alba to play the Invisible Woman is that she's not someone we want to be invisible in the first place -- it's pretty hard to "suspend your disbelief" when you're busy hoping her invisibility powers fail but her costume's function perfectly...
  • by wildsurf ( 535389 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:05AM (#15832148) Homepage
    I gave a live demonstration of personal invisibility in high school physics class. I simply didn't show up that day. I got an A++. It was brilliant.
  • by Petersko ( 564140 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:07AM (#15832165)
    Just follow the average slashdotter to a night club.
  • Let's just hope that when the invisible woman arrives, she's played more convincingly then[sic] Jessica Alba.

    It' a pretty sad statement to say that an actress can't even decently play an INVISIBLE role.
  • Another way to become invisible.
    1. Build a Starport.
    2. Build a connecting Control Tower.
    3. Upgrade, add cloaking field for your wraiths.
    (Bonus: To stay invisible longer, build an Apollo reactor, gives you +50 energy.)
  • I just have to cover my eyes.
  • 1) Sign up a Slashdot account.
    2) Check Slashdot multiple times daily.
    3) Slowly become invisible to the outsi...
  • If there were a way to cause light to bend/reflect/refract around an object from any direction so as to appear ivisible, the person inside such bubble would by definition be blind - at least for the affected wavelengths. Another interesting property of such a bubble is that no light could get out - the path of light is reversible so if nothing gets in then nothing gets out. If all light is directed around, then none gets in or out, simple as that.
  • I think invisibility will eventually be achieved, but it will be something like in the movie Predator. The special effects used for his 'invisibility' was actually very accurate. It didn't really make him invisible, but bent the light around him to make him very hard to see. Doesn't violate the laws of physics, and would be highly effective in most situations. In reality, I don't even think it would be that difficult to implement. (relatively speaking.)
  • by cpu_fusion ( 705735 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @11:39AM (#15832438)
    Stealth technology, whether invisibility to radar, visual light, or whatever, scares the crap out of me when combined with missle-intercept tech.

    Mutual Assured Destruction has kept the nuclear powers-that-be in check for 60 years. A country that feels it has the technology to intercept incoming missles, and massively surprise its enemy (using stealth as discussed in this article), ... well that country might just decide it has to strike first, before its enemy achieves similar capabilities and makes the same judgement call.

    Think about it. Your military advisers tell you that 1) you can intercept incoming missles (even from subs), and 2) deliver missles without being detected. In essence, they are saying you could launch a preemptive nuclear strike with mostly political, not military, consequences.

    You are also advised that in a few years your enemy will have sufficient tecnology to do the same.

    Suddenly M.A.D. is out the window, and replaced with a "whomever strikes first wins" scenario.

    Put three guys in a room (U.S., China, Russia) blindfolded. Tell them the first that leaves the room will live, and the rest will die, but if they all stay put, they will all live. Then tell them there is unlimited power for the first one out the door. What do you think will happen?

  • If standing inside a huge non-invisible device to bend light around you counts as being invisible, I'll just take my "Cloak of Invisibility"[==normal blanket] and get going to the patent office.

    This article is about blocking EM from sensitive equipment. Stop shouting "invisible!"
  • The origin of that 'may' depends on how much scotch he is on at the moment. Plenty of scotch = absolutely possible. Sober (rare) = not possible. Usually it's in-between :)
  • by Tweekster ( 949766 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @12:25PM (#15832781)
    In some standoff in the middle of nowhere the ATF used one of these. The vehicle had fiber optics on pointed on each side. It made the vehicle invisible (the movement basically looked like heat waves on the horizon). They drove an armored personnel carrier within 20ft of the front door. lets just say it suprised the hell out of the gunman standing by the front door.
  • by anvilmark ( 259376 ) on Wednesday August 02, 2006 @02:25PM (#15833760)
    One thing people always forget is how much social co-operation is involved when moving around/though other people. People don't try and walk though you in a crowd. On a battlefield, you don't shoot in a particular direction because a friendly is there. You don't change lanes on the motorway because you know there's a car present or is overtaking you.

    Individual invisibility breaks these cooperative behaviors. If there's an opening in a crowd, someone will probably try and use it. Soldiers/tanks will shoot at targets without respect for their invisible buddy in the line of fire. How many times have you changed course in a crowd and bumped into someone because you thought that direction was clear? An invisible person would have to be continuously watching everyone around him to dodge out of their way.

The human mind ordinarily operates at only ten percent of its capacity -- the rest is overhead for the operating system.