Boeing Scientist Patents Force Field Tech That Blocks Shock Waves

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2015-03-26 Print this article Print
Force Field Tech

That temporary plasma region has a convex shape, which is what refracts the shock wave and renders it harmless. The plasma channel may only last for a few tenths of a second before it dissipates.

What's happened is that the plasma channel has briefly created a force field that prevents or weakens the damaging shock wave so that it doesn't hurt anyone or create damage. But because of the way it works, the plasma channel can be whatever size is necessary and there's no reason that it can't be scaled to protect groups of people, or even buildings and vehicles.

The Boeing scientists have also developed a means of applying the same technique to other types of media, including water. In another patent, Boeing scientists have developed a means of creating a cavitation region within a region of water, making it possible to protect swimmers or even submarines from underwater explosions.

All of this sounds great, of course, but the big question is whether it will really work. Tillotson said that the enabling technology already exists, so there's no reason it can't be built. But he also said that there's an easy way to test the principle.

"What we did test was the use of a convex region of gas where the speed of sound is higher than air." Tillotson explained. "Those tests used helium balloons from a grocery store. We set off about 20 grams of PETN explosive and measured the shockwave intensity at several points. As our model predicted, the intensity dropped by about a factor of four in the area behind the helium balloon.

"Think about that—a sheet of armor would not necessarily protect you from that shockwave, but a helium balloon clearly does," he said. Tillotson isn't recommending sending soldiers into battle with bunches of helium balloons, but the idea would work.

He does point out that other elements of the explosion, such as shrapnel, would not be stopped, but he noted that military vehicles usually have protection against that, but not against the shock wave.

Obviously, this isn't the magic, impermeable dome that science fiction fans expect when they think about force fields, but this is a first step. What's better is that it helps prevent some of the most serious damage caused by explosions, which are injuries due to shock waves. Those shock waves can destroy organs within your body and kill you just as surely as the shrapnel.

Over the long run, this technology has the potential to protect against other types of damage from shock waves in a variety of situations, whether it is just the noise and concussions from construction site blasting, aircraft noise around airports or even really loud concerts. In those applications, you might not need the laser-generated plasma, but the attenuation could be critical.



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