‘Invisible’ to touch

Here’s an innovation that’s so new and special that it doesn’t even have a name. What do you call something that’s hidden from touch? Whatever the word is, the ‘unfeeling’ cloak, which makes objects invisible to the touch, is very exciting.

Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a meta-material that allows another object to be hidden from touch. Unlike light or sound shields, this is a completely new type of ‘invisibility’ material, as it functions mechanically.

The meta-material used is a kind of polymer, formed as a crystalline structure. At the tiniest scales, it’s made of needle-shaped cones that meet at the tips. Each contact point is calculated so that the forces of the object to be cloaked are dispersed right around the object. When this is done, and the object hidden under the meta-material, it is impossible to feel the object through the cloak.

As you might imagine, this is hardly a simple task. Complex mathematics determines the forces and then the resulting shape. While the meta-material is in its infancy, it does have many promising uses.

Using the touch-invisible cloak, entirely new materials can be created. These include materials that have customisable properties, or which are soft in one direction and stiff in another.

As the KIT’s press release mentions, objects can nowadays be (almost) hidden from light, heat or sound. We’ve known of ways to shield objects from other forms of radiation, such as radar or laser signals, for longer. But this development is the first that we know of to deal with that most direct sense: touch.

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