Star Wars force field
Boeing has been granted a patent for a force field made out of lasers, microwaves and electricity that aims to protect targets from the shockwaves generated by explosions (Lucasfilm)

Like something out of Star Wars, aircraft and defence manufacturer Boeing is bringing force fields to life, according to a new patent granted by the US Patent and Trademark Office.

The patent is for a force field that is able to intercept and absorb the shockwaves of an explosion from reaching a target, using several arcs induced by microwaves, lasers and electricity.

It is important to note the force field is no good against direct impact from bullets, shells or shrapnel – it is meant to absorb and prevent shockwaves from impacting the target.

The idea is for the system to be installed on an army vehicle and when the sensors detect a shockwave-generating explosion, the arc generator receives a signal to ionise a small region of air around the vehicle, thus producing a plasma field that acts as a buffer between the vehicle and the explosion.

Boeing's force field system patent dream
The patent shows a system installed on a military vehicle that generates arcs of energy to deflect shockwaves (US Patent and Trademark Office)

"Such prior art shockwave attenuation systems may not be effective to protect highly mobile land assets for which an incoming threat may be in the form of a ballistic shell, rocket, IED, or landmine, or waterborne assets for which an incoming threat may be in the form of a torpedo, ballistic shell, bomb or a naval mine," Boeing states in the patent.

"Therefore, a need exists for a shockwave attenuation device that is capable of dynamically interposing a medium between an explosion source and a protected asset. There is also a need for an intermediate medium that effectively attenuates the energy from a shockwave and that allows for protection of a protected asset in a marine environment."

Although creating a force field by heating and ionising air is feasible, the problem with Boeing's system is the force field does not just deflect shockwaves – it also deflects light.

This would mean the people in the army vehicle Boeing used for its example would not be able to see, unlike the force fields seen in movies, so the system would not really work for any extended amount of time.

There is no indication when Boeing is likely to launch or demonstrate its force field system and it would certainly have to enable people within the force field to be able to function before the solution can become a viable one.