There are several technologies from the world of "Star Trek" that perhaps seem forever relegated to science fiction: transporters, warp drives, universal translators, etc. But if Boeing has its way, you won't find deflector shields on that list. The multinational corporation has been granted a patent for a real life force field-like defense system that is reminiscent of the Trekkie tech most famous for keeping Enterprise safe from phaser blasts and photon torpedoes, reports CNN.
The patent, originally filed in 2012, calls the technology a "method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc." Though not exactly the same thing as featured in "Star Trek," the concept isn't that far off from its fictional counterpart. Basically, the system is designed to create a shell of ionized air — a plasma field, essentially — between the shockwave of an oncoming blast and the object being protected.
According to the patent, it works "by heating a selected region of the first fluid medium rapidly to create a second, transient medium that intercepts the shockwave and attenuates its energy density before it reaches a protected asset."
The protective arc of air can be superheated using a laser. In theory, such a plasma field should dissipate any shockwave that comes into contact with it, though its effectiveness has yet to be proven in practice. The device would also include sensors that can detect an oncoming blast before it makes impact, so that it wouldn't have to be turned on at all times. It would only activate when needed, kind of like how a vehicle's airbag is only triggered by an impact.
Boeing's force field would not protect against shrapnel or flying projectiles — it is only designed to guard against a shockwave — so it isn't an all-encompassing shield. But if it works, it will still offer improved protection against dangers commonly met on modern battlefields.
"Explosive devices are being used increasingly in asymmetric warfare to cause damage and destruction to equipment and loss of life. The majority of the damage caused by explosive devices results from shrapnel and shock waves," reads the patent.
So the world of "Star Trek" may not be so far off after all. Maybe next, we'll have subspace communications and Vulcan mind melds. The line between science and science fiction is becoming increasingly blurred indeed.
Related on MNN: