When temporal cloaking devices — or "time cloaks," a type of fiber optic connection that can hide the transfer of data — were first proposed in a 2010 paper, they were only able to hide data for extraordinarily brief moments and only on rare occasions. But research published today in Nature is making a big leap forward. Researchers at Purdue University have now determined a method that hides data 46 percent of the time, and it even works at the full speed of common fiber optic networks. The cloaking technology is still in its very early stages, but it could eventually be used to secure sensitive information and to advance common communication tools.

The two waves hide one another

The cloaking device works by making inverse waves of data overlap, effectively having a positive and a negative bit balance out to nothing. This gives the appearance to onlookers that no data was being transmitted at all — unfortunately, right now it also has the effect of leaving the data unretrievable. "We erased the data-adding event entirely from history," Joseph Lukens, the study's lead author, told Nature. "There’s no way that data could be sent as a useful message to anyone, even a genuine recipient."

Despite the major fault, physicist Martin McCall — who originally proposed time cloaks, but was not involved in the new study — believes that further research will be able to rectify the data's total disappearance. McCall told Nature that Lukens' work "brings temporal cloaks within reach of practical applications." Clearly, there's a long way to go, but the new research serves as an important proof of concept for the technology.