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Wednesday, December 5, 2012 - 11:54pm
WASHINGTON D.C. — WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) — Remember Harry Potter's invisibility cloak? It was a piece of fabric that could make a person completely disappear. Sounds like a fairy tale, but the military might start using something just like it to camouflage troops.
Camouflage can be the difference between a soldier getting shot and going home.
So a lot's riding on the next generation design to outfit troops.
It's only been eight years since the army spent $5 billion on camo that critics say didn't fool anyone. Soldiers complained to the point the army abandoned its 'one size fits all' universal pattern.
Guy Cramer is one of the designers competing to win the army's next multi-million dollar contract. This summer he showed us the science behind every shape, size and shade of these pixels. "You now have your camouflage... we're trying to trick the brain into seeing things that aren't actually there," he said.
Digital patterns re-create shapes already found in nature, and 3D layering creates depth and shadows where none exist. That's today's design. But developers already have one eye on tomorrow.
"What's coming up down the road and very quickly is the Harry Potter cloak..."
With that fictional cloak, Harry isn't just camouflaged-- he's invisible.
How invisible are we talking here?
"If I walked into a room with a soldier wearing one of these cloaks...you wouldn't see him at all. He would be completely invisible to you."
This isn't make-believe.
The military has seen the so-called quantum stealth technology.
It works by bending the light around an object, even concealing most of a person's shadow. Imagine what that could do for a sniper hiding in a field, or the American pilots who ejected over Libya, when their fighter jets crashed last year.
"They could actually pull out very similar to what they carry in a survival blanket, throw it over top of them and unless you walked right into them you wouldn't know that they were there."
So what was once firmly in the world of make believe could quickly become quite real.
The science is in the special fabric, so you don't need a power source or some instruction manual to make it work.
Theoretically, any soldier, even in the most remote location, could quickly put it on and put it to work.