Aerospace and defense company Boeing recently earned a patent for its first ever force field. The design, submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a "method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc," could be the next step toward Star Wars-style military tactics, creating a brief plasma field to soak up potentially damaging shockwaves.
Unlike force fields in the George Lucas universe, which could prevent direct hits for an extended period and made battle droids practically unstoppable, Boeing's system would work in short bursts.
It combines two elements: a sensor, to detect explosions strong enough to produce a shockwave (like a nearby missile detonation), and an arc generator that creates the actual force field, reducing the force of the shockwave and absorbing the force that could, as shown in the patent's illustration, knock over a traveling vehicle.
Essentially it's a two-step process: Detect a threat, then attack it with lasers and magnets. This robo-narrated video by Patent Yogi explains it further.
Past attempts: This isn't the first time an organization has tried to go the sci-fi route in the world of military defense. In 2013, physics students at the University of Leicester in England sought to prove plasma-based shields could deflect laser weapons — like the ones used in Star Wars and Star Trek. They figured it out, but the window-like force fields in movies couldn't be mimicked, and anyone inside the force field wouldn't be able to see out.
Other militaries have developed more aggressive versions of this kind of technology to protect vehicles. The Israeli military worked with Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to create Trophy, essentially a "fight fire with fire" countermeasure, detecting incoming missiles and shooting them down before they hit the more expensive tanks. This works well until the opposing forces get wise to it and start bombarding the tank with multiple, smaller missiles.
Other uses: The best part of Boeing's concept isn't just what it can do to protect tanks and Humvees from getting rolled across the desert like abused Micro Machines. It could be used to prevent damage to buildings near a target, like a barracks next to an armory, drastically lowering the total damage done in an attack.
The technology could also theoretically be used to protect airplanes, which would make sense for Boeing, since it's a company best known for its contributions to the sky, both for defense and hauling families to Disneyland.
Unfortunately, while Boeing files tons of patents every year to protect its intellectual property, it doesn't pursue all of them. Fingers crossed this one makes it to development, getting us one step closer to the defense of the future.