Boeing is perhaps best known for the commercial aircraft that most people have flown on at one point or another. But the company also has interests in rockets, satellites, space exploration, and an array of military technology. Its latest patent takes a turn toward the science fictional, with a design for a force-field system that could protect vehicles from nearby explosions. Rather than deflecting projectiles aimed directly at the vehicle, this system would muffle the shock wave resulting from an explosion, which is often the most damaging aspect.
When a bomb or other explosive ordinance detonates, it causes a rapid increase in heat and pressure. The resulting shock wave carries a great deal of energy outward from the blast site. Knowing which direction the blast is coming from could allow Boeing’s new force-field technology to spare a small area from the full force of the explosion. Whereas most of the energy shields from Star Trek and Star Wars are fully encompassing, long-term barriers, Boeing’s force field would exist only for a moment in a very limited area.
So how would this system work? It starts with the explosion, which is detected by one or more sensors that can identify the electromagnetic signature of an explosive device. The light from this explosion will reach the vehicle long before the shock wave does (although “long” is a relative term here), which means the system has time to set up a defense. An arc generator will use high-intensity laser pulses to excite and heat air molecules in the space between the vehicle and the blast site. It then introduces an electric arc that travels along the electrically conductive path produced by the laser.
All that energy directed into empty space produces a bubble called a laser-induced plasma channel (LIPC). This plasma will absorb and deflect much of the incoming energy from the shock wave, thus leaving the vehicle in much better shape than it otherwise would have been. This system may also be able to slow and divert shrapnel being propelled by the shock wave. The LIPC wouldn’t have any substantial effect on a projectile aimed directly at the vehicle, though.
The patent lays out a method for deploying this shock-wave attenuation system on a land vehicle, but it could also be used on ships or buildings. A larger structure would require more sensors and arc generators to create LIPC bubbles in the event of an attack, but the principle is the same.
This is still just a patent, so there’s no way to know if Boeing intends to actually build and test such a system. Still, the idea of shielding a vehicle from the force of an explosion, even if only for a short time, is certainly exciting. via