Scientists Create Wearable Device That Camouflages against Heat Sensors

Night vision goggles may become obsolete with this new tech.
Fabienne Lang

Night vision goggles won't be able to withstand a new wearable technology that scientists at the University of California, San Diego just created. 

The team developed a wearable device that can hide its wearer from heat-detecting sensors, such as those found in night vision goggles. Even if the ambient temperature changes that's not a problem for this new technology. 

Their findings were published in Advanced Functional Materials.


It's the first of its kind

In just a few minutes, the device can adjust to the wearer's temperature, changing as the person's temperature changes. So far, no current technology can match this device. 

In the end, the wearer's body heat is camouflaged, something that would render night vision goggles or other thermal sensors, completely useless. 

The tech's surface can go from 10 to 38 degrees Celcius (50 to 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit) in under a minute. Meanwhile, the inside of the tech remains at exactly the same temperature as the human skin, keeping it comfortable for the wearer. 

The device is wireless and can be embedded into fabric, such as an armband. The hope is to create a more advanced version that could, for instance, be fitted into a jacket. 

How did the team build the device?

The team used a phase-changing material similar to wax with a melting point of 30 degrees Celcius (about 86 degrees Fahrenheit) — the same temperature as the human skin. If the temperature on the outside of the device reaches higher than that it melts and stabilizes, insulating the wearer; if it's colder on the outside it will slowly solidify, acting as an insulator. 

The outside layer of the device developed by a mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at UC San Diego, Renkun Chen, and his team is made of thermoelectric alloys — materials that use electricity in order to create a temperature difference. 

Now, the challenge that the researchers face is how to scale up the tech. Their aim is to create a jacket with their tech built into it. However, as it currently stands, the garment would weigh two kilograms (roughly 4.5 lbs.), be five millimeters thick, and only function for one hour

The team is working on creating a thinner, lighter, and longer-lasting garment. 

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