Sunday, September 13, 2009

Hmm. Technical Idea For Use At Some Point...

The brain of a writer -- particularly a science fiction writer -- is a weird thing. One has Ideas. Frequently. But with the pace of technological development, it's not unusual to find that the nifty new idea you've had is already in development by somebody, somewhere. And then again, the prospect of trying to nail down and make money out of any of these ideas... too damned painful for words, really.

And so I shan't be collecting any royalties on movies-for-rent-by-download, which system was dreamed up sometime back in the eighties during a particularly stoned evening (as much by Dugg --MHRIP! -- as by myself, I admit!) Nor will I be getting credit for the Internet Fridge, which I described in detail to Natalie, back in 1996 when I was trying to explain that this "Internet" thing was going to become quite important to everyday life. (Anyway, my version was better than theirs. Mine had a barcode scanner, so you could keep track of the expiry dates on the milk and stuff. And it had software that automatically contacted your local supermarket and put in an order as required...)

Not really important. It's just interesting considering these things, you know?

Anyway, I was just reading up on E-Ink again. If you don't know about this stuff already, you're a bit behind the times. It's a low-power data display system utilising microscopic, pigmented beads suspended in a flexible matrix. They use it for E-books, and it's cool because the display is persistent (only needs power to change) and it's reasonably durable and it's flexible, and they're about to release a colour version of it. Best of all, it relies on reflected light -- it's a 'true image' rather than a 'light image' such as you get from CRTs and LEDs and OLEDs and even from backlight LCDs.

Apparently, the advertising industry is excited by it too. Imagine billboards that can change at the press of a button, to take on any image you can send. Cool, eh?

And then I thought... oh. You know who could really use this stuff? The military. Because, you know -- camouflage is good, yeah, but imagine coating your big-ass trucks and guns and tanks and ships and planes in a layer of this stuff. And incorporating a few cameras here and there, and a single processor to read the images and alter the image on your E-ink surfaces appropriately.

You know: so that whatever was behind or beneath your big military toy got projected onto its surface. Just as if the big military toy wasn't actually in the way.

It wouldn't be invisibility, precisely, no. Difficult to account for parallax and angles and so forth. But it would be seriously fucking effective active camouflage, able to change at an instant's notice to match whatever theatre of war, whichever environment you happened to be hiding in.

Naturally, it wouldn't alter your IR image, nor soak up your EM signature, nor even confuse radar. But it sure as shit would make a difference to satellite and aerial photography, and it would definitely make your old-school Man-With-A-Pair-Of-Binoculars work very, very hard indeed.

It's feasible right now, with current tech. Expensive, yes - but definitely not outside the range of typical military expenditures. And of course, you'd make the stuff modular, so you could just smooth it on like sticky wallpaper; put a new layer on over the top of any damaged stuff.

Pretty cool idea. Think I should bother trying to get credit for it?

Nahhhh. That way lies madness. I'll just incorporate 'invisible tanks' into a story sometime, somewhere, and shrug my shoulders when the real-world military announces how clever they've become. My Invisible Tank can go sit in the garage with my Internet Fridge and my Echo-Locating Mobile Phone and all the rest of that stuff.

I've got lots more to play with anyhow.


  1. On the fridge side of things (as a recent recipient of solidish milk) a mere warning of poor performance would be welcome.

    Chances of making a profit otherwise is the same as other writers with a good idea, carry a bigger stick.
    PS I'm willing to help carry said stick if we can get the idea to work.

  2. A friend of mine is obsessed with Tanks.
    Seriously. He plays Imperial Guard to field Armoured Company (Tanks of all shapes and sizes).

    If you publish a book about Ninja tanks in the near future, that will make his year.

  3. Bangarrr... I just like playing with ideas. Making money out of 'em is business, and that's someone else's hobby. Plus the very idea of trying to get into business with the military makes my skin crawl. And who the hell else needs to hide big... oh. Yeah. Colombians. Geez, there's a fortune right there, eh?

  4. Man Havock will be having wet dreams tonight! I wonder how much R and D is the idea and how much is the implementation. I guess there are heaps of smart cookies who can make an idea work, but not many who can imagine the idea. I wonder how many r and d labs are big fans of speculative fiction in the military?