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Archive for January, 2012

New drone has no pilot anywhere, so who’s accountable?

The US Navy is testing an autonomous plane that will land on an aircraft carrier. The prospect of heavily armed aircraft screaming through the skies without direct human control is unnerving to many.

The X-47B drone, above, marks a paradigm shift in warfare, one that is likely to have far-reaching consequences. With the drone’s ability to be flown autonomously by onboard computers, it could usher in an era when death and destruction can be dealt by machines operating semi-independently. (Chad Slattery, Northrop Grumman / January 25, 2012)

By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times  Find Article Here:-
January 26th, 2012.

The Navy’s new drone being tested near Chesapeake Bay stretches the boundaries of technology: It’s designed to land on the deck of an aircraft carrier, one of aviation’s most difficult maneuvers.

What’s even more remarkable is that it will do that not only without a pilot in the cockpit, but without a pilot at all.

The X-47B marks a paradigm shift in warfare, one that is likely to have far-reaching consequences. With the drone’s ability to be flown autonomously by onboard computers, it could usher in an era when death and destruction can be dealt by machines operating semi-independently.

GRAPHIC: How the X-47B lands

Although humans would program an autonomous drone’s flight plan and could override its decisions, the prospect of heavily armed aircraft screaming through the skies without direct human control is unnerving to many.

“Lethal actions should have a clear chain of accountability,” said Noel Sharkey, a computer scientist and robotics expert. “This is difficult with a robot weapon. The robot cannot be held accountable. So is it the commander who used it? The politician who authorized it? The military’s acquisition process? The manufacturer, for faulty equipment?”

Sharkey and others believe that autonomous armed robots should force the kind of dialogue that followed the introduction of mustard gas in World War I and the development of atomic weapons in World War II. The International Committee of the Red Cross, the group tasked by the Geneva Conventions to protect victims in armed conflict, is already examining the issue.

“The deployment of such systems would reflect … a major qualitative change in the conduct of hostilities,” committee President Jakob Kellenberger said at a recent conference. “The capacity to discriminate, as required by [international humanitarian law], will depend entirely on the quality and variety of sensors and programming employed within the system.”

Weapons specialists in the military and Congress acknowledge that policymakers must deal with these ethical questions long before these lethal autonomous drones go into active service, which may be a decade or more away.

Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said policy probably will first be discussed with the bipartisan drone caucus that he co-chairs with Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita). Officially known as the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus, the panel was formed in 2009 to inform members of Congress on the far-reaching applications of drone technology.

“It’s a different world from just a few years ago — we’ve entered the realm of science fiction in a lot of ways,” Cuellar said. “New rules have to be developed as new technology comes about, and this is a big step forward.”

Aerial drones now piloted remotely have become a central weapon for the CIA and U.S. military in their campaign against terrorists in the Middle East. The Pentagon has gone from an inventory of a handful of drones before Sept. 11, 2001, to about 7,500 drones, about one-third of all military aircraft.

Despite looming military spending cuts, expenditures on drones are expected to take less of a hit, if any, because they are cheaper to build and operate than piloted aircraft.

All military services are moving toward greater automation with their robotic systems. Robotic armed submarines could one day stalk enemy waters, and automated tanks could engage soldiers on the battlefield.

“More aggressive robotry development could lead to deploying far fewer U.S. military personnel to other countries, achieving greater national security at a much lower cost and most importantly, greatly reduced casualties,” aerospace pioneer Simon Ramo, who helped develop the intercontinental ballistic missile, wrote in his new book, “Let Robots Do the Dying.”

The Air Force wrote in an 82-page report that outlines the future usage of drones, titled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047,” that autonomous drone aircraft are key “to increasing effects while potentially reducing cost, forward footprint and risk.” Much like a chess master can outperform proficient chess players, future drones will be able to react faster than human pilots ever could, the report said.

And with that potential comes new concerns about how much control of the battlefield the U.S. is willing to turn over to computers.

There is no plan by the U.S. military — at least in the near term — to turn over the killing of enemy combatants to the X-47B or any other autonomous flying machine. But the Air Force said in the “Flight Plan” that it’s only a matter of time before drones have the capability to make life-or-death decisions as they circle the battlefield. Even so, the report notes that officials will still monitor how these drones are being used.

“Increasingly humans will no longer be ‘in the loop’ but rather ‘on the loop’ — monitoring the execution of certain decisions,” the report said. “Authorizing a machine to make lethal combat decisions is contingent upon political and military leaders resolving legal and ethical questions.”

Peter W. Singer, author of “Wired for War,” a book about robotic warfare, said automated military targeting systems are under development. But before autonomous aerial drones are sent on seek-and-destroy missions, he said, the military must first prove that it can pull off simpler tasks, such as refueling and reconnaissance missions.

That’s where the X-47B comes in.

“Like it or not, autonomy is the future,” Singer said. “The X-47 is one of many programs that aim to perfect the technology.”

The X-47B is an experimental jet — that’s what the X stands for — and is designed to demonstrate new technology, such as automated takeoffs, landings and refueling. The drone also has a fully capable weapons bay with a payload capacity of 4,500 pounds, but the Navy said it has no plans to arm it.

The Navy is now testing two of the aircraft, which were built behind razor-wire fences at Northrop Grumman Corp.‘s expansive complex in Palmdale, where the company manufactured the B-2 stealth bomber.

Funded under a $635.8-million contract awarded by the Navy in 2007, the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System Carrier Demonstration program has grown in cost to an estimated $813 million.

Last February, the first X-47B had its maiden flight from Edwards Air Force Base, where it continued testing until last month when it was carried from the Mojave Desert to Naval Air Station Patuxent River in southern Maryland. It is there that the next stage of the demonstration program begins.

The drone is slated to first land on a carrier by 2013, relying on pinpoint GPS coordinates and advanced avionics. The carrier’s computers digitally transmit the carrier’s speed, cross-winds and other data to the drone as it approaches from miles away.

The X-47B will not only land itself, but will also know what kind of weapons it is carrying, when and where it needs to refuel with an aerial tanker, and whether there’s a nearby threat, said Carl Johnson, Northrop’s X-47B program manager. “It will do its own math and decide what it should do next.”

william.hennigan@latimes.com

Categories: News of the moment

Secrets of the Billionaire backing Gingrich’s shot at the White House.

Sheldon Adelson is not running for office – but his cash could swing Tuesday’s Florida primary.

The billionaire Sheldon Adelson is backing Newt Gingrich

The billionaire Sheldon Adelson is backing Newt Gingrich. Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

Abraham Foxman, the amiably chatty director of the Jewish civil rights group, the Anti-Defamation League, has a story to tell about his friend, the 78-year-old multi-billionaire casino mogul Sheldon Adelson.

Adelson, who is America’s eighth richest man and has given millions of dollars in support of Newt Gingrich‘s presidential bid, was having dinner with Foxman in Las Vegas several years ago. Foxman let slip that he was having to miss an invitation to the White House from the then president, George W. Bush. Foxman explained it was impossible to get a commercial flight. Adelson replied: “If the president of the United States asks you to go, you go.” Then he gave Foxman the use of his private plane.

Foxman asked Adelson if any condition was attached to the spontaneous act of generosity. “The condition is that you tell President Bush that is how you got there,” said Adelson. Foxman made it in time to meet the president.

It is a classic vignette to describe the power and style of Adelson, a man who has given scores of millions of dollars to Republican and Jewish causes over the years but who only now – by backing Gingrich – is becoming known to the wider public. It shows the reach of great wealth and how it mixes with the most powerful people on earth. It also shows Adelson’s willingness to use that wealth for causes and people he believes in.

Gingrich, the latest beneficiary of Adelson’s goodwill, suddenly has an outside chance of becoming president. The veteran firebrand upset the entire Republican race by coming from behind to record a stunning victory in South Carolina. The win rocked the campaign of the frontrunner, the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and pitched the two candidates into a showdown in Florida on Tuesday. If Gingrich can win there, the contest could go all the way to the party’s convention in Tampa, Florida, in August. And if Gingrich wins the nomination, then the first person he ought to thank is Adelson.

Together with his wife Miriam, Adelson has donated $10m to a “Super PAC” backing Gingrich’s presidential bid. Super PACs (political action committees) are a new group of organisations, created by a recent loosening of campaign finance laws, that can accept unlimited donations as long as there is no official co-ordination with a candidate’s campaign. The donations are among the largest from individuals in US political history. While other rivals to Romney struggle for cash, Gingrich does not. The Super PAC, Winning Our Future, has put TV ads all over the airwaves and even bought space for a half-hour anti-Romney documentary that helped give Gingrich his victory in South Carolina.

Critics have said Adelson’s backing of Gingrich ushers in a dangerous new world where America’s wealthiest people might feel able to single-handedly sponsor a major candidate’s bid for the White House.

In a system already awash with campaign donations and money from lobbyists, such a level of financial backing has some worried. “It is an arms race of money. You can imagine a world where you can’t get elected without the backing of a billionaire,” said Professor Noah Feldman, a constitutional law expert at Harvard. “Adelson is not breaking any rules. But the rules are mad,” he added.

Adelson and his wife do not see it that way. “Our motivation for helping Newt is simple and should not be mistaken for anything other than the fact that we hold our friendship with him very dear and are doing what we can as private citizens to support his candidacy,” they said in a joint statement issued to the Observer.

The Adelsons believe their contributions to Gingrich differ only in scale, not kind, from those of any other citizen. “Our means of support might be more than others are able to offer but, like most Americans, words such as friendship and loyalty still mean something to us,” they added.

Insiders at Adelson’s company, Las Vegas Sands Corp (LVSC), say the billionaire does not understand why some groups – such as labour unions – do not get the same media scrutiny when their campaign contributions are likely to be in total much larger. “The attention he is getting is a little puzzling to him,” one company source said. That raises an interesting thought. Labour unions give money to political campaigns in order to further their interests and that of their working members. So, in turn, what does Adelson want for his money? “Elections are not a ‘bro-mance’. You expect something in return. Everyone knows that,” said Feldman.

Adelson was not always a rich rightwing Republican. He was born poor in the liberal heartland of Massachusetts, where being a Democrat was the norm. His father, a Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, was a cab driver in Boston while his mother ran a knitting shop. They brought up Adelson and his three siblings in a tenement in a tough neighbourhood of the town of Dorchester. For a while the family slept together in the same room. 

But Adelson had street smarts that seemed perfect for business. His first job, with money borrowed from an uncle, was at 12 when he sold newspapers on street corners. At 16 he was running a vending machine business. He became a court reporter, joined the army, sold de-icers, invested in real estate and packaged toiletries among many other things. Some ventures worked, others did not.

The idea that launched Adelson into the world’s financial elite was Comdex, a computer trade show that he launched in 1979. It grew into a huge hit, attracting tens of thousands of visitors. “He does not tolerate mediocrity. He just does not ‘settle’ for anything,” said Jason Chudnofsky, a former Comdex executive who worked with Adelman for years.

Even back in the 1970s, according to Chudnofsky, Adelman boasted his business acumen would one day put him in the company of world leaders. “He said we would deal with ministers and presidents of countries. Everything he said then is coming true now,” Chudnofsky said.In 1989 Adelson nurtured his now booming convention business by buying the old Sands hotel in Las Vegas. By 1995 Comdex was sold with Adelson reportedly earning $510m for his controlling stake. It was just the beginning. Adelson’s empire now includes the Venetian and the Palazzo in Vegas and has expanded into Asia. He is now a billionaire at least 20 times over.

It has also made him a Republican. He was apparently converted to the rightwing cause by William Bush, elder brother of the first President Bush, after they met during the 1988 election.Adelson once told a Washington party he “switched immediately” after a talk with Bush.

Through the 1990s and 2000s, as Adelson got richer and also battled trade unions at his Las Vegas casinos, he became more and more politically active. He was generous to George W. Bush’s re-election campaign in 2004, and by 2008 helped bankroll Freedom’s Watch, a group that ran ads against Democrats and in support of the Iraq war, to the tune of at least $15m.

He also became a backer of Gingrich and a personal friend. They first met while Gingrich was Speaker of the House in the 1990s. Since 2006 their ties have also been financial. In that year Adelson gave $1m to a group called American Solutions for Winning the Future that served as Gingrich’s political organisation. By 2010 Adelson had donated around another $6m to the group as Gingrich toured the country, touting his causes and contemplating a presidential run. Eventually this group turned into the Super PAC Winning Our Future. The cheques from Adelson kept coming.

It is not just the American right that is Adelson’s great political passion. There is also Israel. Always proud of his Jewish heritage, Adelson’s activism took a pronounced leap when he married his second wife, Miriam, in 1991. She was an Israeli citizen who had been working in New York. The Adelsons are friends of Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and Adelson purchased a Hebrew-language newspaper to support him.

Adelson is an impassioned opponent of an independent Palestine. He has given at least $60m to the charity Taglit-Birthright, which brings young Jewish Americans on trips to Israel. He has established a thinktank in Jerusalem and given large sums of cash to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust research centre. In the US he has donated to the lobbying group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, helping fund the trips of Republican congressmen to Israel.

All of this dovetails with Gingrich’s policies on Israel. Gingrich has vowed that on the very first day of his administration he would order America’s Israeli embassy to move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He has called for regime change in Iran and repeatedly denied that Palestinians are a real people, saying instead they have been “invented”. In domestic politics, Gingrich has advocated getting rid of child labour laws so that poor children can work as janitors in their schools. He is an ardent fan of slashing federal government and loosening Wall Street regulations. He has warned that President Obama is a socialist who threatens America’s traditional way of life. What Adelson thinks of these exact views is less known. Though often happy to talk to the business press, he rarely speaks to the media beyond that. His press spokesman, Ron Reese, said Adelson had turned down at least 50 interview requests in recent days. But Adelson is happy to use his billions to defend himself. In 2008 his lawyers tried to get reporters barred from a case brought by someone suing for compensation they said was owed after a deal in Macao.

He also sued John L Smith, a Las Vegas journalist over a book he wrote. Though Adelson eventually dropped the case after several years and paid some of Smith’s legal costs, the journalist was still forced into bankruptcy. “Sheldon is a bully. He likes to get his own way. He hates it when people disagree with him… he does not like the spotlight when it is a critical spotlight,” Smith said.

Nor is Adelson’s life without controversies now. He is fighting several lawsuits in Nevada. One, brought by former employer Steve Jacobs, accuses Adelson and his firm of wrongful dismissal after Jacobs claimed he refused to follow instructions to dig up dirt on Chinese officials that could be used as “leverage” to help the business in Asia.

Adelson and Las Vegas Sands Corp have denied the charges, saying they come from a disgruntled employee. But the Securities and Exchange Commission has subpoenaed the firm for documents. The Nevada Gaming Board has also launched an investigation.

Another case has been brought by Adelman’s former driver, Kwame Luangisa, who alleges he is owed overtime payments from the billionaire and his firm. Again, the accusations have been denied.

Adelson’s personal life too has had its legal problems. In 1997, his sons sued him, claiming he had tricked them into selling their Comdex stocks back to him for less than they were worth. They lost. But the implications of such a family dispute hitting the law courts clearly struck Judge Hiller Zobel, who wrote in his judgment that the trial was “like something from the playwright Arthur Miller”. Evidence had revealed the sons as “self-indulgent, substance-abusing, over-pampered” and depicted Adelson as a “harsh, demanding, unfeeling” person, the judge wrote.

It was a rare glimpse into Adelson’s private life. Smith, who knows first hand what it means to cross Adelson, thinks his own experience told him a little of what Adelson could be like. “He is fascinating. He’s worth billions, but he’s pugilistic as the day is long,” Smith said. “In his mind he’s constantly under siege.”

There is certainly no doubting the passion Adelson feels for his causes or the lengths he will go to fight for them. In 2008 he flew 40 wounded US soldiers for a weekend in Las Vegas on a private jet. They stayed in suites usually reserved for high-rollers. When one soldier, who had brought his girlfriend along, decided to get married in the city, Adelson paid for that, too. “He’s known as this tough person, but one-on-one he can be a softy,” said Foxman.

Not that Mitt Romney would agree. ** The money Adelson has poured into Gingrich’s cause has battered Romney’s campaign. An Adelson-funded Gingrich has become Romney’s most implacable foe. Even if Gingrich loses in Florida, he will be able to fight on with a billionaire’s backing. “The past would suggest that they [the Adelsons] will continue to finds ways to support Newt in the future,” said a company source close to Adelson. Chudnofsky put it more bluntly. “He’s not going to stop. If he’s said he is going to support Gingrich, then he will go all in.”.”

Categories: News of the moment

Ghostery tracks the trackers and gives you a roll-call of the companies interested in your activity.

What is Ghostery?    http://www.ghostery.com/

Ghostery is a browser tool available for Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera and Internet Explorer. It scans the page for scripts, pixels, and other elements and notifies the user of the companies whose code is present on the page. These page elements aren’t otherwise visible to the user, and often not detailed in the page source code. Ghostery allows users to learn more about these companies and their practices, and block the page elements from loading if the user chooses.

Be a web detective.

Ghostery is your window into the invisible web – tags, web bugs, pixels and beacons that are included on web pages in order to get an idea of your online behavior.

Ghostery tracks the trackers and gives you a roll-call of the ad networks, behavioral data providers, web publishers, and other companies interested in your activity.

Build an information foundation.

Each of the over 500 companies has a profile that will help you learn more about their technology, their business, and their privacy policies.

At Ghostery, we believe in enabling informed decisions about your control over your online privacy. The more you learn about the companies trading your online behavioral data, the better you can make decisions about how to control your exposure to those companies.

Ghostery allows zero-tolerance blocking of anything ad related, complete (visible) open communication with ad companies, or countless measures in between – determined by you, the informed web user.

Get in Control.

Choose to block – or not. You get control at a company level – are there some marketers you trust, but others you’d rather turn away? Ghostery lets you open the valve of your web behavior as wide or as narrow as you’d prefer.

Download Ghostery now, or review our Ghostery FAQ for more information.

Categories: News of the moment

Facebook’s timeline feature becomes mandatory for all users – with just 7 days to ‘clean up’

January 27, 2012 1 comment

By Rob Waugh 26th January 2012.   Find Full Article Here:-

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the new-look Timeline profile last year: From now, users will simply be notified that they are being 'updated' via an announcement at the top of their home pageFacebook’s Mark Zuckerberg unveiled the new-look Timeline profile last year: From now, users will simply be notified that they are being ‘updated’ via an announcement at the top of their home page

Facebook’s Timeline – a new look for people’s Profile pages which exposes their entire history on the site – will become mandatory for all users.

The ‘new look’ has been voluntary up until now.

From now, users will simply be notified that they are being ‘updated’ via an announcement at the top of their home page, which users click on to activate Timeline.

As with voluntary switches to Timeline, those who are ‘updated’ will have just seven days to select which photos, posts and life events they want to advertise to the world.

Via the official Facebook blog, the site announced, ‘Last year we introduced timeline, a new kind of profile that lets you highlight the photos, posts and life events that help you tell your story.’

‘Over the next few weeks, everyone will get timeline. When you get timeline, you’ll have 7 days to preview what’s there now.

‘This gives you a chance to add or hide whatever you want before anyone else sees it.’

Timeline has been criticised for showing off pictures and posts that people might have wanted to forget.

The new look also pairs with ‘timeline apps’, such as Spotify, which post every time people listen to a song, or eat a recipe or visit somewhere.

‘You can learn more about these new features by taking the quick tour available at the top of your timeline,’ says Facebook.

‘If you want to get timeline now, go to the Introducing Timeline page and click ‘Get Timeline.’Or you can wait until you see an announcement at the top of your home page.’

Categories: News of the moment

‘Google will know more about you than your partner’: Uproar as search giant reveals privacy policy that will allow them to track you on all their products.

By Ted Thornhill 26th January 2012.   Find Full Article Here:-

  • Now users will be bombarded with ads related to their online searches
  • Critics say company will amass ‘cauldron of data’ on users
  • Company says products will be ‘beautifully simple and intuitive’

Google has been savaged by critics after revealing plans to link user data across its email, video, social-networking and other services.

In a move denounced by some as a massive invasion of privacy, the changes will piece together information from Gmail to YouTube to the Google Plus social network.

For example, if you spend an hour signed in to a Google account searching the Web for skateboards, the next time you log into YouTube, you might get recommendations for videos featuring Tony Hawk, along with ads for his merchandise and the nearest place to buy them.

However, this could also apply to searches relating to sensitive topics such as meetings in your calendar.

Privacy problems are particularly pertinent to those who share a Google account with other members of their family.

Cecilia Kang, of the Washington Post, described collation of vast tracts of information as a ‘massive cauldron of data.’

‘Privacy advocates say Google’s changes betray users who are not accustomed to having their information shared across different Web sites.’ she said.

‘A user of Gmail, for instance, may send messages about a private meeting with a colleague and may not want the location of that meeting to be thrown into Google’s massive cauldron of data or used for Google’s maps application.’

Technology site Gizmodo said that the change was the end of Google’s ‘don’t be evil motto.

The site’s Mat Honan wrote: ‘It means that things you could do in relative anonymity today, will be explicitly associated with your name, your face, your phone number.

‘If you use Google’s services, you have to agree to this new privacy policy. It is an explicit reversal of its previous policies.’

Larry Dignan, meanwhile, writing on ZDnet.com, described the new policy as ‘Big Brother-ish’.

Categories: News of the moment

Amazon rainforest mapped in unprecedented detail.

Scientists record Amazon’s structure and biodiversity by bouncing laser beams off forest 400,000 times per second.

Peru aerial mapping of the Amazon

An aerial image of the Amazon rainforest taken by tropical Greg Asner and his team. Photograph: Carnegie Department of Global Ecology/Stanford University

Five thousand metres above the most biodiverse corner of the Amazon, tropical ecologist Greg Asner and his team see a kaleidoscope of colours among a mass of green.

Huddled in a twin-engine Dornier 228 aeroplane called the Carnegie Airborne Observatory, the scientists are capturing multicoloured images of the Peruvian rainforest canopy that verge on the psychedelic.

Inside the plane, a machine known as a Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) bounces a laser beam off the forest canopy 400,000 times per second – the result is a three-dimensional map of the forest showing unprecedented detail.

In addition, a spectrometre, kept at a temperature of -131C (-204F), measures the biodiversity of the jungle in vivid colours by registering the chemical and optical properties of the forest canopy. The team can scan 360 sq km each hour.

“The technology that we have here gives us a first-ever look at the Amazon in its full three-dimensional detail, over very large regions,” said Asner, who is conducting the research for the department of Ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science, based at Stanford University, California.

“[It’s] the critical information that’s missing for managing these systems, for conserving them and for developing policy to better utilise the Amazon basin as a resource, while still protecting what it has in terms of its biological diversity.”

As well as measuring how the forest ecosystem is responding to the 2010 Amazon drought – the worst ever recorded – the technology accurately monitors deforestation and degradation, and has revealed unexpectedly high levels of biodiversity in high forest on the Andean rim of the Amazon basin.

The data could prove critical to the United Nation’s Redd (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) initiative, which will be the biggest future source of funding to protect the planet’s tropical forest.

The programme is designed to compensate tropical countries for reducing deforestation and forest degradation.

“Redd cannot exist without scientifically monitored data on carbon stock,” said Asner, who may have invented the most efficient way of measuring it to date.

Daniel Nepstad, director and president of the international programme at the Brazil-based Amazon Environmental Research Institute (Ipam), and a leading expert on Redd programmes, described Asner as in “a league of his own in resolving the technical challenges that must be overcome for Redd to realise its potential.”

Having scanned some of the Peruvian Amazon’s most inaccessible places, Asner says the region has one of the “most incredible portfolios of biodiversity”. But Asner said his initial research showed a radical increase of illicit alluvial gold mining in Peru’s Amazon region of Madre de Dios since it was last mapped in 2009, making it the region’s primary cause of deforestation – an area estimated to exceed 100 sq km.

Scientists make ‘invisibility cloak’ breakthrough.

26th January 2012 Source: AFP

Scientists in the United States have made a further step towards creating an “invisibility cloak” by masking a large, free-standing object in three dimensions.  Find Article Here:-

Scientists make 'invisibility cloak' breakthrough

A warplane cloaked with such materials could achieve “super-stealth” status by becoming invisible in all directions to radar microwaves.

The lab work is the latest advance in a scientific frontier that uses novel materials to manipulate light, a trick that is of huge interest to the military in particular.

Those hoping for a Harry Potter-style touch of wizardry will be disappointed however. To the human eye, which can only perceive light in higher frequencies, there would have been no invisibility.

But, say the researchers, the experiment is important proof of a principle that so-called plasmonic meta-materials can achieve a cloaking effect.

A warplane cloaked with such materials could achieve “super-stealth” status by becoming invisible in all directions to radar microwaves, said co-lead investigator Andrea Alu.

Plasmonic meta-materials are composites of metal and non-conductive synthetics made of nanometre-sized structures that are far smaller than the wavelength of the light that strikes them.

As a result, when incoming photons hit the material, they excite currents that make the light waves scatter.

The new experiment entailed making a shell of plasmonic meta-materials and placing the cylinder inside, and exposing the combination to microwaves.

Microwaves scattered by the shell ran into microwaves bounced from the object, preventing them sending a return signal to the viewer.

“When the scattered fields from the cloak and the object interfere, they cancel each other out, and the overall effect is transparency and invisibility at all angles of observations,” said Alu.

Any shape of object can be masked, he added.

The cloaking worked best at a microwave frequency of 3.1 gigahertz, said the paper.

The feat is a step forward because other techniques have entailed bending light around two-dimensional objects or, in 3D, masking microscopic bumps on mirrors or reflectors, an approach called “carpet cloaking,” say the authors.

The new concept could be modified for visible light, although any cloaked objects would be very small, in the micrometer range, as the plasmonic effect is linked to the wavelength of the light, Alu said in a phone interview.

Even so, there could be important applications for microwave meta-materials, he said.

“Camouflaging to radar is one important application, a super-stealth device to make objects invisible to radar,” he said.

“What we are thinking about is not necessarily cloaking the whole warplane but some hot spots, a part such as the tailplane that you would want to cloak because it reflects most of the energy (from microwave radar).”

Another outlet would be in laboratories, filtering out the “backscatter” of light from the tip of high-powered optical microscopes. Unwanted light such as this impairs images of the object that is being scrutinised, and skews measurements.