A Canadian company called Hyperstealth says that it's developed a wearable cloak that uses "Quantum Stealth" technology to provides complete invisibility across the visible, infrared, and ultraviolet spectrum by bending light around objects. We're pretty sure that this is mostly or entirely not true, so stick with us while we explain why we're so skeptical.
The first thing to mention is that the pictures seen here of the cloak in operation are all just simulations, Photoshopped by Hyperstealth on the grounds that "for security issues we can not show the actual technology." We'll get in to that later, but Hyperstealth says that these images are an accurate simulation, although the cloak itself does apparently work a bit better than the pictures show.
Here's the claim, from inventor and Hyperstealth CEO Guy Cramer, as described in an interview in The Atlantic from 2011 with an appropriately skeptical journalist:
Late last year, Cramer told me about a project he'd been working on for two years that sounded like it relied on refraction. He called it "quantum stealth," and it seemed like science fiction. "It works by bending light around an object," he explained at the time. "So far, we've been able to make an object about the size of an orange completely disappear." When he said this, I nodded and nearly choked on my skepticism. If Cramer spoke the truth, he'd have surpassed the preeminent experts in the study of light refraction.
Cramer provided no proof other than a video that showed a woman walking behind some sort of transparent screen, and then disappearing as the screen was somehow activated, a similar effect to the pictures in this article, although the current generation of Quantum Stealth is a fabric that can be draped like a cloak. According to Cramer:
"We're bending the entire spectrum of light — infrared, ultraviolet, thermal. People are disappearing. It doesn't use cameras or mirrors or require power
It is lightweight and quite inexpensive."
[If you walked into a room with a soldier in it wearing Quantum Stealth], "you wouldn't see him at all. He'd be completely invisible to you."
Quantum Stealth even removes 95% of your shadow, apparently.
Now, we should certainly point out that it's not strictly impossible that Cramer has done exactly what he's saying that he's done. Scientists around the world have been trying to make invisibility cloaks for just microwaves and other very specific wavelengths of light, and they've just barely started to succeed with incredibly complex systems of metamaterials. That doesn't necessarily preclude Cramer from having solved the same problems all at once using some sort of cheap fabric.
But let's just forget all of the scientific reasons why this invisibility cloak probably isn't, since we're not in a position to conclusively disprove anything that Cramer has done. Instead, let's just see how he, and other people, are dealing with what he's managed to create.
The biggest red flag is of course that Cramer refuses to show the technology to just about everyone. A recent interview with Maple Ridge News quotes Cramer as saying:
"We've proven [that it works], but I'm not about to show it because there's no need to show you what works because the only people who need to see this are the people we have shown." Even a demonstration to the media, without photos, would result in one more person seeing the technology who shouldn't, he said.
This really doesn't make sense, even from a security standpoint. Assuming that this stuff works as advertised, a public demonstration presumably wouldn't reveal anything that Cramer hasn't already. Anyway, what's the problem with people seeing camouflage technology? The reason to keep things like that a secret is if they work better than you want it to be generally known that they do, but the way Cramer is talking, it seems like Quantum Stealth is the best camo you could ever have, ever. And besides, so what if people know about it, that wouldn't diminish its effectiveness when you switched it on, right? Cramer also says that "I've already developed a countermeasure for Quantum Stealth so we would be able to detect anyone else with something identical or similar to Quantum Stealth." Er, that's good, then.
So let's start checking with people who have seen Quantum Stealth in operation, because there are a few who have spoken with the press about it. One of these people is Bill Jarvis, who we should point out is associated with a consulting firm that's trying to help Hyperstealth apply and sell its products. Jarvis has this to say, speaking to Maple Ridge News:
The object appears to go away. What [Cramer is] saying is exactly what it does. But you've got to be careful with your own expectations of what you think
It's like anything else."
Hrm, well, our expectations are based on what the dude who invented it has told us, and the pictures that he's provided, so that's kind of a weird thing to say, isn't it? If that sounds like some serious hedging to you, I'd agree.
Ideally, we'd want to talk to a third party who has seen a demo, and Maple Ridge News found one. They spoke with Maj. Doug MacNair, from Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, who was able to confirm that he'd witnessed a presentation by Cramer, but he was not particularly impressed:
"We didn't pursue it further, at least not at this time anyway. It wasn't something we were interested in pursuing at the time. It doesn't mean we wouldn't in the future, necessarily
We're aware of the company, we have the information. But we don't have a contract in place at the time."
The simple fact is that if Quantum Stealth worked as advertised, or I bet even half as well as advertised, you'd have to think that Canadian Special Operations Forces Command would have been absolutely all over it. Or if there was potential, they'd at least have given Cramer a bunch of money to develop it or something. But instead, it's just a curt "thanks, but we're not interested."
What this comes down to, for me, is that things that seem too good to be true, usually are. And if you're going to make extraordinary claims, you're going to have to be willing to show people extraordinary evidence. We've been through all of this before, first with Steorn (who claimed to have developed an over-unity energy generator), and much more recently with the E-Cat (a $1,000 household cold fusion water heater). In both cases, these companies claimed to have invented some crazy new technology, and refused to show it to anyone except for those who "needed to know" while constantly proclaiming that it would change the world. Steorn turned out to be deluding themselves, and I suppose the jury is still out on the E-Cat (although it was supposed to be in Home Depot this year and last time I checked there were no cold fusion generators in stock).
As with both Steorn and the E-Cat, I will be utterly overjoyed if this amazing new technology proves to be everything that its inventor claims that it is. I'll eat my hat, I'll eat humble pie, and I'll eat whatever else you want me to in penance (within reason, guys, be nice). But the onus is on Hyperstealth to prove that its Quantum Stealth camouflage really can do what it says it can do, and until that happens, we're going to remain decidedly skeptical on this one.
(Please leave ideas for non-toxic edibles for Evan in the comments below should Quantum Stealth prove him wrong. -Ed)