Real life force field? Almost, but not quite

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Boeing, the world’s largest aerospace company and maker of fine passenger planes and unmanned drones, recently patented a concept for what some are hailing as a “Star Wars-like force field.” The patent, titled “Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc,” has inspired a number of Star Wars and Star Trek references, as well as the requisite arguing over which franchise actually inspired the patent.

So, how does this “force field” really work?

However, some writers and commenters have already pointed out the limitations of using sci-fi metaphors for describing military technology, arguing that the “force field” as conceived in the patent is not really a visible, impermeable membrane like the ones found in the final battle of “The Phantom Menace.” So how exactly would this “force field” work?

The immediate aftermath of an explosion – say, one targeting an occupying imperial military force –  entails several immediate dangers for its targets, among them flying shrapnel and shockwaves. Protective armor and vehicle plating can protect military personnel and vehicles from shrapnel to a certain degree, but the astounding kinetic energy transferred to the human body via detonation waves can be as fatal as an encounter with a vehicle moving at high speed.

According to the patent, Boeing’s device will attempt to solve the problem of shockwaves by “heating a selected region” of the air through which the shockwaves are traveling to “create a second, transient medium that intercepts the shockwave and attenuates its energy density before it reaches a protected asset.”

force field

An illustration of the device from the patent documentation.

The patent outlines several potential “embodiments” of the technology, one of which involves detectors that trace the source of the explosion and the path of the shockwaves. The detectors would then communicate with an arc generator, which could generate a plasma field with lasers or microwaves that would significantly reduce the energy impact of the shockwaves.

A video from Patentyogi’s YouTube channel provides a visual representation of how this would work:

(Featured image: A still from Patentyogi’s video on the new technology)

About Author

Adam Cameron spent his academic career learning about Iran, but ultimately decided that a job in the military-security-industrial complex just wasn't for him. He worked with Iranian refugees for a few years and has always dreamed of being a writer. He lives in North Hollywood, California in an 8-bit cocoon made out of an elaborate blanket fort covered in Adventure Time posters.

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