Boeing, a company that is popular worldwide for manufacturing aircraft but is also involved in the defense and security industry, has received a patent for a design that is named "Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc."
The patent is for a technology that utilizes energy for deflecting potential damage to a structure or vehicle, which calls to mind the glowing force fields that can be seen in science fiction movies such as Star Wars and Star Trek.
This is not the movies though, with the approval of the patent applied for by Boeing the first step to realizing a technology that was once only part of the big screen.
The technology is described in the documents filed by Boeing to the United States Patent and Trademark Office as designed not to prevent the direct impact of shrapnel and shells into structures and vehicles, but rather to protect them from damages caused by shockwaves from nearby objects.
The shockwave attenuation system detailed in the patent will be made up of a sensor that can detect explosions that generate shockwaves and an arc generator which receives signals from the sensor. Once the arc generator receives a signal for a possible shockwave, it will ionize a small area, creating a plasma field located between the structure to be protected and the shockwave source. The generator will utilize electricity, lasers and microwaves to generate the plasma field.
The plasma field will be different compared to the environment in terms of density, temperature and composition. This difference will provide the buffer between the protected structure and the detected explosion, stopping the shockwave from causing any damage to the structure.
According to the patent, the buffer will protect the structure by reducing the energy density of the explosion's shockwave through the creation of a second medium to block the path of the shockwave, which would refract, reflect, deflect or absorb at least a part of the force of the shockwave.
Because Boeing's technology will heat and ionize the air surrounding the structure or vehicle to be protected, it is not suitable as a long-term shield surrounding the structure or vehicle. While such a force field that will function closer to what is seen in movies is technically feasible, with physics students determining last year that an electromagnetic field can be used to hold plasma shields in place, such a force field will also likely deflect light, causing total darkness within the shielded area.