The CIA takes on Marvel Comics tech it considers a real possibility
Before you laugh it off and remind us all that Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War are just movies (and/or comics) and should not be taken seriously, let me remind you there are numerous examples of sci-fi and fantasy leading to the development of real-world technology. Video calling, holographic projections, tablets, Bluetooth devices, and even tractor beams were all inventions of fiction that later became reality. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the U.S. is currently building the TALOS suit, an Iron Man-inspired suit of mechanical armor.
So, it's not all that surprising that a CIA scientist would break down Wakanda's advanced, fantastic tech to see what's possible — and to see what could become a real threat.
The analysis was part of the agency's #ReelvsRealCIA series, and the scientist (whose name was not revealed) is an expert in emerging technology and digital innovation. She pitted Marvel's Wakandan technology against the limits of today.
Inching toward being the first supervillain, one day at a time.
Vibranium is the rare metal that Wakanda has in abundance, deposited there by an asteroid 10,000 years ago. The metal can absorb vibrations from all kinetic energy, which includes both conventional and energy weapons. The ability of the metal to absorb vibration also means it absorbs sounds. This material is what makes Captain America's shield indestructible.
A real-world metal with these comic-book properties doesn't exist, but there are a few substances that come close, according to "Rebecca," the CIA's scientist.
- Tungsten Carbide – This chemical compound can compress materials and store energy to be released later.
- Diamond nanothreads – Carbon atoms bonded together the way they are seen in diamonds can hold a lot of energy when woven into fabric.
- Vibranium – Elon Musk's Hyperloop is developing a material they call "Vibranium" (because of course Elon Musk is), a woven carbon alloy that is eight times stronger than steel and five times lighter. The threads can also store and send data about its condition.
2. Tactical Sand
Vibranium-infused sand forms real-time depictions of tactical situations — it's data visualization using sound waves to form shapes in the sand. The technology may be fictional, but the theory behind it is very much a reality. Rebecca says it's based on Chladni's law, which states that different sound frequencies cause sand to form different patterns.
But a pattern isn't a tactical display. What about the actual data coming in, can that be represented in sand? The answer is yes, and MIT is doing it right now. Researchers can make sand respond to real-time movements, using it as they would pixels, allowing people who are in a remote area to interact with data in real time.
3. Kimoyo Beads
Tiny beads of vibranium that can hold personal data or perform specific functions, all triggered by touch, are a feature of every Wakandan.
Devices that can be engaged via touch clearly exist (most of you are reading this on a touchscreen device, after all) as does remote control technology. The problem, at the moment, is in the holographic communication. The physics of light waves and the space required for holographic projections restricts this technological function.
What excited "Rebecca" most about Kimoyo beads is the use of blockchain technology in storing personal information. Blockchain technology means data is not stored in a central server and is therefore much less vulnerable to hacking and theft than traditional databases.
Unfortunately the nanomachines just shred whatever clothing you're wearing.
4. The Panther Habit
T'Challa's Black Panther suit is comprised of woven Vibranium nanoparticles, tiny machines that emanate from his necklace, swarming over his skin and forming a protective suit that can absorb energy, regenerate, and self-replicate.
Rebecca notes that nanotechnology is primarily being developed in the medical field right now, but swarm intelligence like the kind used by the Panther Habit is being developed for use with drones. As for lightweight cloth that can absorb vibrations and shocks, there are a few companies who are working on similar technologies that have a lot of interest from national sports leagues, the U.S. military, and law enforcement.
5. Invisibility Cloaks
Using lens technology to bend light around objects, like the tech being developed at the University of Rochester, gives researchers the ability to hide objects. Right now, this technology only works on human vision, and must be seen through the lens, but the evidence below is pretty amazing.
Nanotechnology opens the door to real invisibility cloaking, and is already being done on a very, very small scale. But the CIA's scientist points out that hiding a whole country from satellites that have radiation and heat detection is still going to be very unlikely, even if it can't be seen with the human eye.
6. Basotho Blankets
Basotho blankets are the amazing tribal blankets worn by the border tribe that just happen to double as deflector shields. Unfortunately, even if we consider vibranium to have near-magical properties, light will never be able to stop a physical object or other light, as Rebecca points out.
She does point to another way to create an energy shield:
"In Physics of the Impossible, physicist Michio Kaku says that you'd need a "plasma window," a frame in which gas could be heated to 12,000°F, to vaporize metals (even vibranium?) Alternately you might use high-energy laser beams that crisscrossed each other, to vaporize objects, but both of these require more rigid structure than a cloak. Back to carbon nanotubes! If you could weave those into a lattice (or a cloak), they could create a screen of enormous strength, capable of repelling most objects. The screen would be invisible, since each carbon nanotube is atomic in size, but the carbon nanotube lattice would be stronger than any ordinary material. Add in some cool hologram effects, and you could have a pretty nifty shield that would be the envy of any intelligence service operating in a warzone."