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Boeing’s Force Field Isn’t as Cool as it Sounds

  • Jason McClellan

Boeing could make force fields a real thing. 

The aerospace and defense firm was recently granted a patent for something that sounds like it’s straight out of science-fiction. The “Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc” is the long-winded and, well, less-cool-sounding name for this futuristic defense technology. It’s a fucking force field!  

OK, OK. “Force field” might be overstating things a bit. This proposed technology won’t create full-on Star Wars energy shields capable of deflecting laser blasts from Star Destroyers. But it might be a step in the right direction. 

In a combat situation, explosions are bad news. They can blast shrapnel and all sorts of shit all over the place. They can also produce damaging shockwaves. Until real force fields are developed, things like armored doors provide protection from explosion fragments for vehicle occupants. But armored doors can’t do shit to stop a shockwave. 

That’s where Boeing’s theoretical system comes in. 

Boeing’s system won’t protect against direct hits from bullets, bombs, or shrapnel. Instead, the system is designed to protect against shockwave damage from nearby explosions. CNET explains that this system “consists of a sensor capable of detecting a shockwave-generating explosion and an arc generator that receives the signal from the sensor to ionize a small region, producing a plasma field between the target and the explosion using lasers, electricity, and microwaves.” By creating a field that differs in temperature, density, and, possibly, composition, a buffer would be created that could protect the target from a shockwave. 

The company might use an electrical arc, a laser, or microwaves to rapidly heat the air around the area where an explosion is detected. But all the details aren’t worked out yet. After all, this is just a patent. The system probably doesn’t exist yet. And, once it does, there’s no guarantee that it will actually be effective. 

Shortly after the news broke about Boeing’s patent, Wired published an article titled, “That Boeing Force Field? It Probably Won’t Ever Work.” Aside from doubting that Boeing will be able to get the thing to work, the article rips on the fact that this system won’t cover the entire vehicle, and it won’t always be activated. It only engages once it senses danger. 

We’ll just have to wait and see if Boeing can get this thing to work, and then see how effective it really is. It sounds like a pretty weak shield though—certainly nothing like they’ve got in Star Trek and Star Wars. But I guess something is better than nothing.