The US Patent and Trademark Office has recently granted a patent (No. 8,981,261) to Boeing for developing device that could generate a force-field to protect soldiers from harmful shock waves generated during explosions. The patent is called “Method and system for shockwave attenuation via electromagnetic arc”.

An armored military vehicle can stop debris from hitting a soldier in case of a nearby bomb blast but it can’t protect him from shock waves generated due to the explosion. These shock waves can cause massive trauma if they hit a human body. A researcher at Boeing has found that a veil of heated ionized air could shield a person from the force of explosions by making shock waves bend away from persons or objects, thus saving them.

Brian J. Tillotson, a senior researcher at Boeing, got this idea when he saw soldiers suffering such type of injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We were doing a much better job of stopping shrapnel but they were coming home with brain injuries,” He said.

Tillotson has developed a device that heats up the air in front of the exploding bomb. One version of the device has a sensor mounted on a military vehicle that can detect a nearby explosion. It would send a signal to a large power source such as an arc generator which in turn would superheat the air around it to produce a shield that will protect against shock waves.

When current is generated in the power source, electricity jumps between 2 ends of the circuit which heats and charges the air around it.  This heated and ionized air acts as a shield by changing the speed of the shock waves, refracting and bending them away from the soldiers and other objects behind the arc.  This process is similar to the way lenses refract and bend the light.

According to Tillotson, a laser could also be used to heat and ionize the air around the beam or even a metal strip could be used. “Put a couple of kilo-amps [thousands of amperes] through a strip of metal, and it will vaporize,” he said. This vaporized metal heats the air surrounding it.

It remains to be seen whether this device patented by Boeing becomes a reality and comes out as an actual product. This is not the first patent that Tillotson has obtained. He has at least half a dozen other patents in the fields of beamed power sources, aerodynamics and other methods for muting the shock waves.