American researchers have developed an $1,000 invisibility cloak based on off-the-shelf technology.
The device, developed by the University of Rochester and therefore dubbed the Rochester Cloak, uses a set of lenses placed in front of the object that needs to disappear.
"From what, we know this is the first cloaking device that provides three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking," said Joseph Choi, a graduate student who helped develop the method at Rochester, which is renowned for its optical research.
Thanks to the use of readily available lenses, the device can be built with a rather modest budget. While the current device carries a price tag of $1,000 (£617), the researchers believe the cost could be cut down to a tenth of this amount.
Inspired by fairy tales and fantasy stories such as the Harry Potter series, so-called invisibility cloaks allow objects to be hidden from view while everything else around the cloaked object appears undisturbed. Previous cloaking methods have been complicated, expensive and not able to hide objects in three dimensions when viewed at varying angles, the researchers explained.
"A lot of people have worked on a lot of different aspects of optical cloaking for years," said John Howell, a professor of physics at the upstate New York school.
In their tests, the researchers have cloaked a hand, a face and a ruler – making each object appear invisible while the image behind the hidden object remains in view. The implications for the discovery are endless, they say.
"I imagine this could be used to cloak a trailer on the back of a semi-truck so the driver can see directly behind him," Choi said. "It can be used for surgery, in the military, in interior design, art."
Howell said the Rochester Cloak, like the fictitious cloak described in the pages of the Harry Potter series, causes no distortion of the background object.
Although a patent is pending, they have released simple instructions on how to create a Rochester Cloak at home for under $100.
Find how to make a Rochester invisibility cloak here