WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- SPlenty of companies are developing new laser and direct energy weapons systems but noone has ever managed to create an actual laser deflector shield, and that might be about to change
Deflector shields are the stuff of science fiction – whether it’s the rippling green shields that saw off Will Smith’s F/A-18’s in Independence Day or the Star Trek shields that batted off the Klingons advances. But until now they remained just that – science fiction.
Now, scientists at BAE Systems believe a new type of directed energy laser and lens system that manipulates the atmosphere could make such devices a reality, and in as little as fifty years from now.
Known as the Laser Developed Atmospheric Lens (LDAL) the concept works by simulating naturally occurring phenomena that temporarily alters small parts of the Earth’s atmosphere to create lens like structures that magnify or alter the path of electromagnetic waves – including radio signals and light.
According to BAE, a lens generated in this way could be used as a type of deflector shield to protect aircraft, land vehicles, troops, and ships from assault by high powered laser weapons.
LDAL’s prime purpose, however, is to enable better electromagnetic communications by re-creating a number of naturally occurring effects, such as the reflective atmospheric effects found in the ionosphere and the kind that are behind some of the more quirky atmospheric phenomenon such as desert mirages. LDAL mimics many of these effects by using high powered lasers to heat parts of the atmosphere which helps to create highly reflective areas, such as the ionosphere, or areas where light can be bent at will, such as is the case with desert mirages.
Using these techniques LDAL would allow operators to send high frequency signals further than ever before, or produce localized, Fresnel lens like refractive areas that bend electromagnetic waves to a specific point on Earth – even when the direction was at a completely different angle to the original waves.
The system takes advantage of the “Kerr Effect,” an optical phenomenon that occurs when intense light is transmitted through media such as glass or, in this case, gases in the atmosphere, that alters the media’s refractive index, to temporarily ionize a small patch of atmosphere in a way that allows the air to simulate mirrors, glass lenses, and structures like Fresnel zone plates that diffract light.
“Working with some of the best scientific minds in the UK, we’re able to incorporate emerging and disruptive technologies and evolve the landscape of potential military technologies in ways that, five or ten years ago, many would never have dreamed possible,” said Professor Nick Colosimo, BAE Systems’ Futurist and Technologist.
While other companies, such as General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman are also developing laser and direct energy weapons systems this is the first time a company has thought about using a laser system to create a deflector shield that protects assets from laser weapons, and while it’s merely a concept at this stage the science is sound. However, there is also a flip side to this new concept as well, and the theory goes that if you can bend light and extend the range of sensor systems then it also becomes a superb global spying tool… Ah, science – you’ve got t love it!
Matthew Griffin Global Futurist, Tech Evangelist, X Prize Mentor ● Int'l Keynote Speaker ● Disruption, Futures and Innovation expert
Matthew Griffin, Futurist and Founder of the 311 Institute, a global futures think tank, is described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers.” Recognised in 2013, 2015 and 2016 as one of Europe’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew mentors several XPrize teams, and is an award winning author, entrepreneur and international speaker who is regularly featured on the BBC, Discovery, Kurzweil, Newsweek, TechCrunch and VentureBeat. Working hand in hand with accelerators, investors, governments, multi-nationals and regulators around the world Matthew shines a light on the future and helps them transform their industries, organisations, products and services by demonstrating how the combination of democratised, and increasingly powerful emerging technologies, are helping fuel cultural, industrial and societal change that is transforming old industries and creating new ones. Matthew’s clients include Accenture, Bain & Co, Bank of America, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Dell EMC, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, E&Y, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, Huawei, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, McKinsey & Co, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Schroeder’s, Sequoia Capital, UBS, the UK’s HM Treasury, the USAF and many others.