The use of cloaking technology is something you might think of when watching Star Trek or reading Harry Potter. For years, though, scientists have been hard at work to bring such a technology to life and now Toyota has joined them with a fascinating new patent filing.

What's the patent for?

Toyota, known for its commitment to innovation and pioneering cutting-edge technology, acquired a patent from the United States Patent and Trademark Office on June 17 “for apparatuses and methods for making an object appear transparent.”

It may sound ironic, and unsafe, to develop a technology to make a vehicle invisible, but it actually has the potential to do the opposite—increasing visibility and make our roads safer.

360-degree view

The patent describes a cloaking device designed to turn vehicles’ A-frame pillars to the left and right of the dashboard invisible (or transparent). These pillars have become wider over time as crash-safety requirements get stronger, but Toyota’s technology hopes to solve the visibility problem by providing an unobscured 360-degree view for the driver. 

Toyota points out that this sort of technology can already be put to use in vehicles, but it requires expensive video cameras and other equipment. Other automakers have envisioned solving the visibility problem by installing cameras on the outside of the pillar, then feeding an image to a display on the inside of the panel. Toyota’s answer is to find an equally efficient but less expensive alternative, and it believes its “cloaking device” is the most viable option.

How it works

The idea is to wrap a pillar in a series of mirrors and opaque surfaces that direct light around it, which would allow drivers to “see” a clear image of their surroundings. It would also benefit pedestrians and bikers, as drivers would see them better.

For now, this is a merely a patent application (but a cool one at that). Of course, if Toyota ever does figure out a way to make its “cloaking device” work, it would be an impressive feat, and it may eventually give Star Trek a run for its money.

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Image Credit: Toyota