Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Active camouflage (or adaptive camouflage) is a group of camouflage technologies which would allow an object (usually military in nature) to blend into its surroundings by use of panels or coatings capable of changing color or luminosity. Active camouflage can be seen as having the potential to become the perfection of the art of camouflaging things from visual detection.
Theoretically, active camouflage should differ from more conventional means of concealment in two important ways. First but less importantly it should replace the appearance of what is being masked with an appearance that is not simply similar to the surroundings (like in conventional camouflage) but with an exact representation of what is behind the masked object. Second and more importantly, active camouflage should also do so in real time. Ideally active camoflage would not only mimic nearby objects but also distant ones, potentially as far as the horizon, creating perfect visual concealment. In practice, the effect should be similar to looking through a pane of glass making that which is hidden perfectly invisible.
Active camouflage has its roots in the diffused lighting camouflage first tried out on Canadian Navy corvettes during World War II, and later in the armed forces of the United Kingdom and the United States.
The modern version began with a United States Air Force program which placed low-intensity blue lights on aircraft. As night skies are not pitch black, a truly black-colored aircraft might stand out to the naked eye. By emitting a small amount of blue light, the aircraft appears to blend into the sky more easily.
Active camouflage is rumored to have taken a new turn with the development of the Boeing Bird of Prey, which apparently took the technology to a higher level. However, as the Bird of Prey was a black project, specific information is sketchy.
This technology is poised to develop at a rapid pace, with the development of organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and other technologies which allow for images to be projected from oddly-shaped surfaces. With the addition of a camera, while not allowing an object to be made completely invisible, theoretically the object might project enough of the background to fool the ability of the human eye or other optical sensors to detect a specific location. As motion would still be noticeable, an object would merely be more difficult to hit, and not undetectable under this circumstance. This has been demonstrated with videos of "wearable" displays where the camera could see "through" the wearer.
Fictionalized examples of such camouflage can be seen in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Predator, the James Bond film Die Another Day, the Metal Gear Solid video game series, the Halo video game series, and the Japanese anime and manga Ghost in the Shell, which has been cited as the inspiration into Tokyo University experiments into optical camouflage. A simiar effect is achieved by the cloaking device found in Star Trek, however this fictional example does not achieve active camoflage's effect in the same way.
Active camouflage is not a human invention. Many animals can change their color, among them the proverbial chameleon, but the ability is used primarily to communicate. A true and most convincing example of active camouflage among animals are the octopuses, who can blend into their surroundings not only by changing their color, but also the shape and texture of their skin.
- Burr, E. Godfrey. "Illumination for Concealment of Ships at Night." Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada (Third series, volume XLI, May 1947, p. 45-54).
- No Day Long Enough: Canadian Science in World War II. Editor: George R. Lindsey. (Toronto: Canadian Institute of Strategic Studies, 1997), p. 172-173.
- Summary Technical Report of Division 16, NDRC. Volume 2: Visibility Studies and Some Applications in the Field of Camouflage. (Washington, D.C.: Office of Scientific Research and Development, National Defense Research Committee, 1946), p. 14-16 and 225-241. [Declassified August 2, 1960].
- Waddington, C.H. O.R. in World War 2: Operational Research Against the U-Boat. (London: Elek Science, 1973), p. 164-167.
- Patent application for one form of active camouflage, United States Patent & Trademark Office
- "Now you see it, now you won't: Boeing lifts the veil on stealthy Bird of Prey", Jane's International Defence Review article mentioning Bird of Prey's daylight stealth capability
- "Scientist show off 'invisible coat'", Sydney Morning Herald, March 30, 2003
- "Japanese scientist invents 'invisibility cloak'" (with photo), Ananova
- "The Invisible Fighter", MIT TechnologyReview.com , December 30, 2004
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