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The Invisible Fighter

By Michelle Delio December 30, 2004

A popular geek party trick may someday become an important defensive weapon in modern warfare.

The U.S. military is increasingly involved in urban combat, but its gear is still stuck in the jungle. The patterned uniforms, no matter what the color, do little to help conceal solidiers as they move through city streets and back alleys. That has left the armed forces with little recourse but to turn to its own -- and civilian -- researchers who are looking for ways to use emerging technologies to better hide fighting units. The result: complex technological interactions that could render troops and their gear invisible.

This almost mythical power will most likely not come through a new combination of patterns on cloth, but via digital cameras that can capture nearby surroundings and then project that scene on uniforms and vehicles, turning the military into a mobile movie screen that is -- if all goes well -- indistinguishable from the surrounding cityscape.

The idea behind this camouflage has been demonstrated in crude forms at conferences, conventions, and geek gatherings. Really, though, it's just a parlor trick that requires a webcam connected to a laptop. The camera is mounted facing backwards, while the laptop is held facing the onlookers. Poof -- the part of body that's covered by the laptop's display seems to have become transparent.

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