New "invisibility cloak" keeps objects from being felt


July 1, 2014

It's now possible to hide an object from being felt, thanks to research by scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Photo: T Bückmann / KIT)

It's now possible to hide an object from being felt, thanks to research by scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Photo: T Bückmann / KIT)

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Scientists at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have developed a method of concealing objects from the sensation of touch that would finally meet the exacting standards of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale princess, who felt a single pea prodding her beneath 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds.

The research team's method relies on a metamaterial – a material that exhibits properties not usually found in natural materials – that consists of a three-dimensional polymer microstructure formed by needle-shaped cones. This metamaterial structure is built around the object to be hidden, with its mechanical properties dictated by those of the object.

Cloaking requires that an object be isolated from, and made to externally appear just like, its surroundings for all conditions. In optics, this feat is accomplished with help from an opaque metal wall, and in heat conduction by a thermally insulating wall. To make an "unfeelability cloak," you need a rigid wall around which a structure can be wrapped to make the interior feel identical to the surrounding.

The researchers placed a hard cylinder beneath the spring-like elastic metamaterial and found it to be undetectable to the touch of a finger or through tactile pressure with a measurement instrument. It was, to all intents and purposes, "invisible," as was anything placed inside the hollow interior.

This is distinct from, say, cotton or light foam placed atop the cylinder in that those materials would make it more difficult to touch the underlying hard material without negating the feeling that it's nonetheless there. In the Princess and the pea fairy tale, lead researcher on the project Tiemo Bückmann explains, "the princess feels the pea in spite of the mattresses. When using our new material, however, one mattress would be sufficient for the princess to sleep well."

The method could have far-reaching implications, allowing carpets to hide cables and pipes, or the manufacture of ultra-thin camping mattresses that soften the painful effects of sleeping on top of rocks, sticks, and uneven ground.

Don't expect to see it in use anytime soon, though. The research is little more than a proof of concept for elasto-mechanical cloaking, and as such will need a few years to mature into something commercially viable.

The research is described in a paper published in the journal Nature.

Source: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

About the Author
Richard Moss Richard is a freelance writer and journalist based in Melbourne, Australia. He’s contributed to Ars Technica, Edge Magazine, Polygon, and many other publications. When not writing or trying to read the entire internet, you’ll likely find him dancing, playing games, dabbling in creative stuff, or learning about whatever catches his eye. All articles by Richard Moss

Because memory foam can't give you the exact same thing? lol


Marc Stinebaugh

But sliding the object beneath a cavity in a brick accomplishes the same feat.

I fail to see anything special ability, here.


Where's the cavity, flink?

Noel K Frothingham

I agree with Flink, plus the moment you actually put pressure on the top rather than simple touching it surely you'd put the shape of whatever you applied pressure with. So if they were pushing that block with their finger then it would compress and they would feel the cylinder.


@Noel K Frothingham

The cavity is in the hypothetical brick.

That little bit of material hides the object underneath it from touch. But so would a brick in a similar configuration.


Ya,,, maybe I'm missing something, but I don't get it. Its the same thing as putting a thick piece of foam on top of an object.

Joe Sobotka

Ideal for cables, power lines, phone lines, Internet sensors, miscl cables, plumbing alone worldwide. Mass produce

Stephen Russell

Sounds like something James Bond could use with some imagination.


At last! We finally have the ability to hide things from blind people!

Vlad Tepesblog

This amazing invention is 1 step below Warp drive. Vulcan's will be arriving soon for First Contact.

Tom James

Fab idea! The possibilities are boundless....

I'm currently using the same sort of technology to cloak the spring/frame assembly which cut into me on my favourite chair. My matress is just a load of old rusty springs which are terribly uncomfortable too. I'm gonna cash in on this before it catches on!

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