Boeing has received a patent for a system designed to reduce the impact of shock waves from an explosion. The patent under US patent number 8,981,261 has the resounding title ‘Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc’.
Despite the visual comparison that Cnet makes on its blog with force fields from science fiction films, the system cannot stop physical objects, but can stop shock waves caused by, for example, an explosion or neighboring impact.
The system must fire as soon as a sensor detects a shock wave, after which an arc generator is able to ionize a small area by generating a plasma field between the target to be protected and the explosion. To generate that field, the system uses lasers, electricity and microwaves. The plasma field would differ in temperature, density and/or composition from the environment, creating a buffer against shock waves.
The patent further states that “such a buffer may reduce the energy density of the shock wave in part by creating a second medium in the path of the advancing shock wave that reflects, refracts, absorbs and deflects part of the shock wave.”
Because the system generates heat and ionizes the air, it is useless to envelop a target in this way for extended periods of time. The entire patent can be read at the United States Patent and Trademark Office.