back to article Toyota reveals its work on an honest-to-goodness cloak of invisibility

A team of researchers have detailed a range of techniques which they suggest could one day lead to a genuine cloak of invisibility - although, thanks to Toyota's involvement, they're looking to start by making the windscreen pillars disappear from your next car. "We are always looking for ways to keep drivers and passengers …

  1. ShadowSystems

    I remember a SciFi book about this.

    A material that was essentially a 1x1 molecule grid of light receptors & light emitters. You wrapped the item to be cloaked in the stuff & the receptors on one side were retransmitted on the opposite side, thus making the item inside essentially invisible. It worked from any angle, in real time, in pretty much every band of emitted radiation. There was a alien spaceship sitting on the bottom of the ocean just waiting for a new crew to come claim it. There was a sneak thief that wore a body suit of the stuff & enjoyed robbing folks blind.

    Granted making single molecule EMF receptors & emitters is still a bit beyond mere civilian commercial tech of today, but given how hard the military pours billions of dollars & thousands of man hours into cracking such issues, I wouldn't be surprised if those grubby magazines start advertising such suits "sometime real soon now(TM)".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

      "sometime real soon now(TM)"

      I'll expect it some time after I get a Mr Fusion to power my flying car then.

    2. Falmari Silver badge

      Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

      @ShadowSystems "There was a sneak thief that wore a body suit of the stuff & enjoyed robbing folks blind."

      I think that would be robbing folks while blind. No light would reach the thief's eyes. ;)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

        Based on the SF description of how it worked, it was essentially a bunch of cameras and emitters, not bending light around. This means there can be an internal display in front of the eyes, duplicating what;s in front as for vision while also emitting a copy out the other side.

        1. Falmari Silver badge

          Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

          @John Brown (no body) way to spoil the joke Sheldon ;)

        2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

          Or for that matter eye-slits. Those would be damned hard for someone outside the "cloak" to spot.

    3. Cynic_999

      Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

      Single molecule light receptors & emitters would not work. To be able to interact with light, the device must be bigger than the wavelength of light. It's why you need an electron microscope to see things smaller than a certain size. Things smaller than the wavelength of the light (or other EM radiation) being used just don't reflect (or obstruct) that light, so no amount of magnification will allow you to see it.

      It's also why UV light is used to image ICs with small geometries. Visible light has a wavelength greater than the size of the features on the IC.

      But you don't need a pixel size anything like as small as a molecule. So long as the field of view has at least as many pixels as the number of rods and cones in your retina, the granularity will not be detectable.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        If your retina can't detect it

        Then you'll pull up the FindACloak app on your iContacts that uses their tiny cameras (kept out of view by being in a ring overlapping your iris) and puts an AR overlay on cloaked objects.

    4. Steve Foster

      Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

      What's wrong with good ole-fashioned transparent aluminium?

      1. John Gamble

        Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

        It probably doesn't have the structural properties needed for the task.

        Transparent Aluminum (Aluminum Oxynitride)

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          The very article you reference indicates that "It is about three times harder than steel of the same thickness "

          That seems good enough for me as far structural properties are concerned. There must be some other issues though, or we'd already see it in use.

          1. LogicGate Silver badge

            Hardness and maximum (tensile) stress are two radically different properties, and they should not be confused.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            The key line in that transparent aluminium link is "Fracture Toughness .......... 2 " . Steel or Al metal could be more like 50 or more in the same units. Impact toughness under rapid loading probably compares even worse - metals are generally very good for that. So transparent Al is likely to shatter in a collision situation .

      2. Ribfeast

        Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

        Beat me to it, but the problem is that it is quite brittle I believe.

        1. AnotherName

          Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

          So it will shatter your illusions?

    5. JWLong

      Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

      I'm still waiting for the dude to turn lead into gold.

      Going to happen real soon now, right!?

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

        Making precious metals is a fool's game. It's so hard to keep that supernova in your crucible.

        Making gemstones is where it's at. Rubies have been manufactured since 1837. They're easy-peasy. Sapphires are the same, of course, since they're also corundum, just with different doping.

        Diamond and emerald manufacture is more expensive, but all four of the precious stones can be manufactured in jewelry quality. Microscopic examination can generally distinguish between manufactured and natural gemstones, but of course it's impossible to prove that you can't manufacture ones with suitable contamination and imperfection to pass existing tests, or that no one isn't doing so already.

    6. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

      There was a company demonstrating the active-surface "invisibility" technique on a variety of objects, such as footballs ("soccer balls" in the US) and other relatively small, hand-held objects, about 15 years ago. They were using a mesh of small LED displays with CCD cameras between them, if memory serves. So the images from cameras on one side were fed to the screens on the other side.

      The effect certainly wasn't invisibility, but it was a sort of weird, rippling transparency with some grid members visible. You could see the ball shape when the demonstrator moved it, but it was easy enough to overlook when it was still. Pretty neat.

      For Toyota's application, I'd think wrapping an OLED screen around the middle part of the inside of the pillar and putting an image from a single camera mounted on the outside of each pillar would work quite well. Drivers adapt quickly to backup cameras and camera-based rear-view "mirror" displays.

      That said, aren't there models with transparent A-pillar sections already on the market? I could have sworn I saw a reference to one a while back.

    7. BillG

      Re: I remember a SciFi book about this.

      Invisibility is theoretically possible, with selective bending of light. But the power cost is enormous.

  2. a_yank_lurker


    Interesting Toyota is doing this for better all around vision not to hide something. I wonder how far along some black cloaking project is?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Interesting

      I suspect it's a paper put together by a couple of recent graduates, who were given the job of seeing whether there was any practical way of doing this.

      I wouldn't hold your breath, for it to work properly on both windscreen pillars for any driver position, they've basically got to build a holographic display that can be wrapped around a doubly curved surface. The sensor required to capture the 3D image to be shown is also pure fiction at the moment.

      1. zuckzuckgo Silver badge

        Re: Interesting

        > I suspect it's a paper put together by a couple of recent graduates

        Yes, just an academic exercise in writing papers. Current systems could detect objects in your forward blind spot, warn the driver and provide a camera view when needed. Essentially like the rear blind spot warning systems available now.

        A true cloaking device will have to wait for that error-corrected 1000 qbit quantum computer that should be ready any time now.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting

        I have been in rooms where the surfaces are 'monitor banks' and where the 360 degree view is taken from multiple sensors. For applications, think the control of an armored car/tank or maybe a ship with some of the sensors being sonar, radar, etc. but mostly visual. These rooms are being used to remove all of the infrastructure from the view (as well as augmenting the view with other data).

        A couple of cameras on the outside of the pillar and a little image processing would provide a source image for the car application. The hardest part is actually measuring the drivers viewpoint to render the correct part of the image on the inside of the pillar. Both technologies are commercially available.

        1. Cynic_999

          Re: Interesting


          The hardest part is actually measuring the drivers viewpoint to render the correct part of the image on the inside of the pillar


          No need. The driver can adjust the camera to suit his position in the same way as the rear-view mirror is adjusted. Give the camera a wide enough field of view to cover the normal range of head movement.

      3. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

        Re: Interesting

        "they've basically got to build a holographic display that can be wrapped around a doubly curved surface"

        Video projector mounted above the Web driver's head. Projecting the camera views onto light colored interior surfaces (aren't all cars beige anyway?) The surface curvature is largely cancelled out by the video source being close to the same plane as the driver's eyes.

        The images of pedestrians may still look like fun-house mirrors. But the human mind is adaptible. Just don't run over the tall, skinny guy.

      4. Cynic_999

        Re: Interesting

        Why holographic? I don't see that it requires a 3D view for this application, nor anything with high definition. A camera and LCD displays would be perfectly adequate in allowing the driver to see objects hidden behind the pillars. The camera being moveable by the driver to provide the correct field of view from the driver's position, the same way as rear-view mirrors are adjusted.

        No need to give the illusion of looking through the pillars any more than the rear-view mirror gives an illusion of having eyes in the back of your head. Just somewhere to easily look that gives a view of objects usually obscured by the pillars.

    2. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Interesting

      Given that it's only "targets" in two relatively narrow regions that need to be revealed and the observer is a driver who can't move too far from a fixed location if they plan to control the vehicle (assuming that we aren't talking about a Tesla owner who thinks that back seat driving is a real, feasible thing) This just might be doable someday. Maybe even sometime soon. But a bit later than that would be my bet.

      In the meantime can we have two cameras aimed at the areas obscured by posts, and a button on the steering wheel that will temporarily put the images they are capturing onto the display used by the backup camera/entertainment system/GPS readout?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting

        Rather than pressing a button, and looking at a screen, the driver could just move their head, so they don't have to refocus their vision from a point outside the vehicle to a screen inside the vehicle, with the corresponding slight drop in situational awareness....

        1. vtcodger Silver badge

          Re: Interesting

          "the driver could just move their head"

          That works fine for the driver side door post. Sadly, it's pretty much impossible for a human driver with the normal number of eyes deployed in the usual location (2 eyes relatively close to each other --above the nose -- below the forehead) to see around the forward passenger side door post in many modern vehicles even after twisting forward/backward/sideways as far as the seatback and steering wheel allow.

          For some reason -- thinner doorposts? bigger interiors? -- There was much less problem prior to about 2010

          1. vtcodger Silver badge

            Re: Interesting

            Follow-up: I got to wondering about WHY it's so hard to see behind the passenger side doorpost on our cars. So I went out and sat in one of them for a while. Turns out that the driver's side doorpost is pretty close to the driver and seeing objects behind it only requires moving one's head maybe 10 cm or less -- which is something we humans do routinely to see around posts and supports in shops and such. The passenger side doorpost is maybe six times as far away. Which means I'd have to move my head six times as far to see objects beyond it. Not so easy. Plus which on that particular vehicle -- a Kia Soul -- the passenger side outside mirror also blocks visibility of many objects and vehicles on the passenger side.

          2. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

            Re: Interesting

            "For some reason -- thinner doorposts? bigger interiors? -- There was much less problem prior to about 2010."

            For at least some cars, it is the addition of airbags in the A-pillar that has worsened the problem. Our two cars are the same manufacturer but different models. One has no A-pillar airbag, and I never have any trouble with vision*. The other can hide an entire Transit-sized van coming up to roundabouts.**

            * Just like every other car I've driven in the last 40+ years.

            ** I am tall enough that I need to have the seat as far back as possible. This seems to make a difference because of the relative angles.

          3. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

            Re: Interesting

            "For some reason -- thinner doorposts?"

            Yes, crash testing led to a dramatic increase in the strength of A-pillars. It's been going on since well before 2010.

            A-pillars on pre crash test cars were spindly little things. By the nineties they were starting to grow, and by about 2000 they were big chunky supports.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting

        You can. Many car makers offer a 360 view (including Toyota's Bird's Eye View).

        I'm not holding my breath for invisibility cloaks.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Interesting

        If you knew you needed to push the button, wouldn't you have to know something was there? Otherwise you would be getting into distracted driving. A good brainstorming idea, but I don't think it would make the cut as is.

        An always on screen you could glance down/up to might work? Assuming the angled view wouldn't give people motion sickness.

  3. Chris G

    A fully functional cloaking device

    Cling on to that thought!

    1. theOtherJT

      Re: A fully functional cloaking device

      Take your upvote and get out.

    2. b0llchit Silver badge

      Re: A fully functional cloaking device

      don't you spell Cling on: r o m u l a n?

      And, what happens to prey when the bird is no longer visible?

      1. Anonymous Custard

        Re: A fully functional cloaking device

        A fully functional cloaking device? I can't see it myself...

  4. sw guy

    no need for perfection

    What matters for me as a driver is to be aware there is something in this direction, as well as how does this something roughly looks like.

    As long as there is a big enough surface of really transparent stuff (a.k.a. windscreen and windows), a blur, not invisible, pillar area may be enough

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: no need for perfection

      That's what I was thinking, you don't need a view as clear as you get through glass. Just enough that you don't have something like a pedestrian or cyclist completely blocked by the pillar. Something simple like a single outside camera on the pillar and an LCD/OLED display on the inside that shows the correct view to the driver (no need for the passengers to have a "correct" view angle) would be good enough, but it sounds like they want better for some reason.

      So it won't really matter, because it will take long enough to deploy this that by that time humans won't be driving cars anymore.

  5. O RLY

    What about the other Deathly Hallows?

    Who's making the Elder Wand? Raytheon, Lockheed, or BAE?

    Is there a Resurrection Stone in the offing from Big Pharma?

    All jokes aside, I'd love to see this cloak. Or not see, I suppose, but experience it.

  6. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Please leave your invisibility cloaks in the cloakroom before entering the premises....

    On the way out:

    "erm, I've lost my cloakroom ticket"

    "Sigh, which one is it?"

    "the invisible one"

    As an addition, it should be pointed out that the safety uses of this technology are gained by having the "invisibility" on the inside of the vehicle, rather than the outside, which would make it much less safe.........

  7. fishman

    Easy peasy

    Add cameras on the exterior to record the images that are blocked by the pillar.

    Use sensors to determine the driver's eye position.

    Cover the pillar with screens.

    Compute the amount and position of the video to show and display it on the pillar screens.

    1. LogicGate Silver badge

      Re: Easy peasy

      And not that novel:

    2. Daedalus

      Re: Easy peasy

      One of the more flashy US trucks (i.e. pickups) is being touted with a system that renders any large trailer you may be towing invisible to the driver, the better to see any other vehicles you may be inconveniencing. Well, it's just a camera system on the trailer and some processing, but it has the sales droids dancing in the streets.

    3. swm

      Re: Easy peasy

      When I and my son were in Las Vegas there was an electronic gambling machine that was three dimensional. It tracked your head position and projected two different images for each eye. It got really confused when we both tried to see the image.

  8. Daedalus

    Er, why??

    Improving visibility is pointless in a world where people rarely pay attention to anything else on the road anyway.

  9. brainwrong

    Evolution got there first

    One of the odder animals out there, the Barreleye fish looks vertically up through its transparent head!

  10. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    Other options

    Wouldn't it be easier to move the pillar airbags? They were nice and small until they became giant C-beams. Even carbon fiber would solve the weight/strength/size problem with less cost than simulated invisibility.

    1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

      Re: Other options

      No, A pillars are huge (compared to pre-crash-test days) even without airbags.

    2. Steve K

      Re: Other options

      C-Beams also glitter in the dark (at least near the Tannhäuser Gate), so cloaking would probably not work in all cases anyway?

  11. Denarius

    Not only but also, truck mirrors

    Some midsize trucks have mirrors that effectively block views of intersections. Mirrors are big and not easy to see around, so approaching intersections one has to look right and left longer than other vehicles. Not ideal. I note newer busses have relocated their mirros forward and up to get around this.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: Not only but also, truck mirrors

      So, we need invisible mirrors too?

      Great idea, what could go wrong...

  12. Aussie Doc

    Optional sensible title here

    Can't see it, myself ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    Yeah, I'll see myself out.

    1. hugo tyson

      Re: Optional sensible title here

      I went shopping for camo gear; I couldn't see anything I liked.

  13. Ochib

    I see Q branch has leaked information again

    They must have let Toyota have a good look at the Martin V12 Vanquish/Vanish

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Thermoptic camouflage suit. WOoT!

  15. keith_w

    If you hit someone in an intersection who is wearing an cloak of invisiblity, who is at fault? The driver or the pedestrian?

  16. Cliffwilliams44 Bronze badge

    It has been my opinion that they had already achieved this in 2012? I currently drive the "exceedingly Japanese" Scion FRS (Toyota GT to you Euros), mine is the 2014 model, and I am convinced that people do not see me on the road. The fact that the color of my car is called Asphalt, may be a contributing factor. I've had people (mostly of the feminine gender) in trucks, SUVs and Minivans pull right out in front of me while they calmly stare right over my car. I've had several people slam on their brakes when they realized at the last minute that there really was a car in front of them motionless at the traffic light (He looked in his mirror and saw a very upset and shaken Asian female). So I am convinced that i drive a stealth automobile and now drive appropriately cautious!

    And we all know that they have been researching this technology for years int he motorcycle industry!

    (Sorry for the stereotypes, but they are completely accurate. I have yet to have a man, in a sedan or sports car NOT see me. It is my opinion that "undomesticated human males" have anti-stealth eye sight.)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Toyota GT to you Euros"

      You mean the GT86. AKA the Subaru BRZ.

  17. teknopaul Silver badge

    totally unnecessary

    your brain does a very good job at resolving this problem.

    you may think that you see everything in front of of your eyes but you don't. mad bioscience is going on. your brain fills in a huge gap with an apparent clear image based of decidedly lossy input. You don't even see things _when_ you think you see things.

    bottom line, make the wipers 10% faster and all this theoretical mad science is moot.

    oh, and don't drive if visibility is dangerously poor. This has more to do with your eyes and age and reaction speed that any technical wizzardry.

  18. Dwarf

    Insurance claim

    I didn't see it until it was too late.

  19. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

    I thought ...

    ... Toyota had solved this problem years ago.

  20. Robert Grant Silver badge

    This would be good for SUVs

    One of the three hideous things about SUVs is in a normal car (or other vehicle) you can't see "through" them at a roundabout or other similar situation. Having a technology like this that made the doors appear transparent would be great.

  21. Rol

    The end is not Bill Nighy. Well not yet, that is.

    In looking into the problems of protecting life on Earth from interstellar pirates, and also allowing life on Earth to develop naturally without being influenced by concrete evidence of alien life, we hit several problems, that I believe Toyota might also come up against.

    Providing a pseudo-real night sky for life that might one day look at it more closely than we would like was a brain ache, but we solved that with quantum physics and some clever faster than light data shifting. Basically the screen, which is a huge globe encompassing the entire Solar system, emits a carefully edited version of what is going on outside, in real time. We edit out the starship battles, exploding planets and Vogon super highways and stream the rest through. But "Ah!", I hear you say. "How do you keep the images relative to all the viewers". Well we scan everyone and everything looking out into the sky and transmit a personalised view to each and everyone of you. I suppose on the simple level that Toyota are working on, they just need to track the eyes of the driver and transmit from the pillar the image on the other side straight to them or via their rear view mirror.

    As for the rest of the universe, the Solar system is a dull and uninteresting place, as far as they are concerned. It was a little interesting 500,000 years ago, but we slammed some planets together and sent the Sun into a bit of a spin, where it now glows a violent red and presents nothing but danger to any who might come close. A couple of Vogon surveyors studied the potential for moving the Solar system out of the way of a planned route, by turning it all to dust and hoovering it up, but we arranged a nasty accident with some Vogicidal garden rakes, and that plan was just forgotten about.

    So. Everything is safe and well looked after. You have no need to worry about being eaten as a newly discovered snack. All I ask is that you stop fucking the place up, because the parents will be coming home soon, and they'll be mighty pissed to see the mess you've made.

  22. G7mzh

    Of course, it would be easier simply to put the pillars where they're not in the driver's line of sight. Like cars used to be made!

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