An optical illusion is an image of a real target perceived by the eye that is deceptive or misleading due to a physiological illusion or a specific visual trick. The recently developed metamaterials provide efficient approaches to generate a perfect optical illusion. However, all existing research on metamaterial illusions has been limited to theory and numerical simulations. Here, we propose the concept of a radar illusion, which can make the electromagnetic (EM) image of a target gathered by radar look like a different target, and we realize a radar illusion device experimentally to change the radar image of a metallic target into a dielectric target with predesigned size and material parameters. It is well known that the radar signatures of metallic and dielectric objects are significantly different. However, when a metallic target is enclosed by the proposed illusion device, its EM scattering characteristics will be identical to that of a predesigned dielectric object under the illumination of radar waves. Such an illusion device will confuse the radar, and hence the real EM properties of the metallic target cannot be perceived. We designed and fabricated the radar illusion device using artificial metamaterials in the microwave frequency, and good illusion performances are observed in the experimental results.
New Scientist – At 45 millimetres, the team’s illusion device is three times as wide as the cylinder it disguised. “Their device is still fairly bulky relative to the original object, so further work needs to be done before a real device can be deployed,” says John Pendry of Imperial College London.
Although invisibility devices were invented first, the illusion technology might win the race to be put to practical use. “It is easier to falsify something than to hide it,” Pendry says.
The team next plans to explore ways to design devices with more complex shapes.
Wei Xiang Jiang and Tie Jun Cui’s team at Southeast University in Nanjing, China, have created a structure that changes the way radio waves interact with a copper cylinder so that it appears to be composed of another material altogether.
Copper conducts electricity well and reflects incoming radio waves, giving it a bright radar signature. To alter this behaviour, the team built a device made of 11 concentric rings of circuit boards etched with small metal-lined channels that prevent electromagnetic waves reflecting away. Instead, they guide the waves in a direction that the researchers choose specifically to make the hidden object appear to have different electrical properties.
Placed around a copper cylinder, the arrangement created the illusion that the cylinder was made of a dielectric, a class of materials including porcelain and glass that do not conduct electricity and are more transparent to radio waves.
The illusion only worked when the cylinder was viewed from the side; what’s more, the imaginary object it generated was the same size as the original. Future designs would have to account for all three dimensions, and might produce an illusion quite different from the object they disguise.
“In principle, this technology could be used to make an illusion of an arbitrary shape and size,” says Cui, whose team created an electromagnetic “black hole” for light in 2009. Similar illusion devices could eventually be used for stealth technology: for example, to “convert the radar image of an aircraft into a flying bird”, Cui says.