Photo: Peter Kerrian

Several news outletsĀ have claimed that scientists have created a ā€œcloaking deviceā€ like those seen on Star Trek, but thatā€™s not quite what happened. The cloaking devices on Star Trek bend light to render an object invisible, and the new device merely deflects sound. The technology also isnā€™t so new, as others are working on devices like these. Itā€™s still cool, though.

The device being covered in the news today is a metamaterialā€”an engineered object with specific properties unlike those found in a regular old machine shop. Some of these materials display mind-bending physical properties, others are the blackest black, and others are ā€œanti-magnets.ā€ One potentially important metamaterial would be one that could control the direction of sound waves.


Penn State researchers, led by research associate Amanda Hanford, set out to create a metamaterial that could scatter sound waves underwater. Sonar works by sending vibrations through the water, which bounce off a target and back into a detector. A specifically-designed metamaterial could potentially deflect the waves so they donā€™t return to the detector.

This week, the researchers debuted their attempt at creating a sound-scattering metamaterial at the 175th Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America in Minneapolis. The researchers created the three-foot perforated steel pyramid shown above, put it in a tank of water, and hit it sound waves between 7000 and 12000 Hz in frequency. The material seemed to deflect the waves, based on the readings in the tankā€™s receivers.

This is still early days: Obviously, this material was a pyramid in a tank, and not a submarine in the ocean subjected to real sonar. Nor was it a cloaked spaceship. And others are researching similarly-shaped materials that also change the direction of sound wavesā€š including this proposed device from Duke University researchers. Other scientists are researching more Star Trek-like electromagnetic cloaking devices as well. The Penn State researchers have not yet responded to a Gizmodo request for comment.


So, no Star Trek style cloaking device yet, just specially-engineered pyramids in the lab. But maybe one day.