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It's not quite "Star Trek," but Boeing has patented a force field that's meant to keep soldiers safe on the battlefield. In theory, it would sense an explosion from a roadside bomb, counter the resulting shock wave with an electric, laser or microwave arc, and save the soldiers from potential brain injuries. It would not, however, stop any of the shrapnel from the bomb — soldiers would still need to rely on the armored doors of a Humvee or their own body armor. The key is heating the air enough to create a shield that would deflect the shock wave.
"The laser version is flashy, both literally and metaphorically, but those systems are hard to maintain in the field," Brian Tillotson, the senior technical fellow at Boeing who filed the patent, told NBC News. He said the microwave option is probably the military's best bet. Right now, no prototype has been built. Boeing envisions it as something that might protect the cabin of a vehicle or a tent in a field hospital. "Shock waves don't really affect vehicles, but what you do want to do is protect the human body," Tillotson said.
He got the idea for the force field when a biologist he worked with told him that many U.S. soldiers were returning home with no noticeable physical injuries, but later showed signs of brain damage. "In a lot of cases, it was the shock waves from the blast," he said. A study by the Institute of Medicine found that tens of thousands of soldiers have suffered neurological disorders because of shock waves from improvised explosive devices, better known as IEDs.
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