The Chinese government has been funding at least 40 teams of researchers over the past three years to develop a technology that can obscure objects from view, making them "disappear".
Scientists including those from Tsinghua University and Chinese Academy of Sciences are working on several key approaches such as developing materials that can guide light away from an object, according to a report by South China Morning Post. There are also efforts to create electromagnetic fields to bend light away from the object as well as tap high-tech camouflage materials to blend objects into their surroundings.
One clear use of the technology is to develop stealth aircraft for the military, but the Chinese government is keen for the research to lead to broader uses, said the researchers.
In a video posted last month, a team at Zhejiang University demonstrated a cloaking device that made fish as well as a cat disappear. The scientists developed a device made of a hexagonal array of glass-like panels, which obscured the object from view by bending light around it.
They also revealed plans for another device that used heat sensors or metal detectors to prevent objects from detection. The size of a matchbox, the device can be enlarged to allow weapons to pass through security checkpoints, according to the report.
Professor Ma Yungui, an optical engineering specialist at Zhejiang University, said: "Many people have asked me if the technology can be applied on fighter jets so they can get heat-seeking missiles off their tail. Well, we may work on that."
He noted that while a practical version of an invisibility cloak might still be decades away as it needed materials that could not be manufactured using current technology, he said the Chinese government was putting funds into research because any theories developed could result in several potential spinoffs.
"I went to an international forum on invisibility studies in Paris last year and found that at least a third of the researchers came from mainland China. It seems easy to get funds these days. You ask for it, you get it," Ma said.
He added that there was a "40 percent chance" China will develop the world's first "invisibility cloak" because current global experts on the associated technology were Chinese. He also pointed to the extensive collaboration among the Chinese scientific community.