US military scientists have unveiled a laser capable of remotely firing disembodied voices, sounds and bright lights into crowds of protesters.
The Pentagon’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) says the Non-Lethal Laser Induced Plasma Effects (NL LIPE), aims to have perfected a beam that can produce audible instructions and commands to small groups of people within three years.
Thedrive.com reports: “I’m trying to get a little plasma ball to speak to you,” David Law, head of the JNLWD’s technology division, told Military Times earlier in March 2018 at an exhibition focused on directed energy systems in Washington, D.C. “We’re this close to getting it to speak to us,” he added to Defense One on the sidelines of the same event.
You can watch demonstrations of the experimental systems below. In the final experiment, which begins at 5:40 in the video’s runtime, you can eventually hear what sounds like a broken radio transmission.
But it’s not actually transmitting a recording or relaying an actual person talking at all. What’s actually happening is an interaction between two lasers.
The first is what’s known as a femtosecond laser, which shoots out pulses of amplified light at an extremely high speed. This creates a ball of plasma, a field of highly electrified gas with unique properties distinct from other states of matter – gasses, liquids, and solids.
Those properties mean that U.S. military scientists can hit the field with a second small nano-laser to create different effects, such as light, sounds, and even the release of thermal energy. They say they’re working on developing ways to tune the system to produce specific audio wavelengths, which in turn will allow them to effectively artificially generate a human voice. It can also generate loud sounds – more than 140 decibels in some cases, the same as hearing a typical gunshot from 100 feet away – that could be distracting or painfully disorienting.
A practical system could potentially replace a host of less-than-lethal systems than American forces already have available to them. These include visible lasers that can temporarily blind or disorient individuals, so-called “acoustic hailing devices” that focus sound waves at long range to convey messages or pump out painfully loud noise, and microwave active denial system “pain rays” that can chase people away with an unbearable burning sensation.
A plasma-based system could have added benefits in terms of range and safety over those existing devices, too. Theoretically, a practical device could hit a target with a less-than-lethal effect tens of miles away, exponentially greater than the aforementioned options.
“Now I can put it anywhere. Range doesn’t make any difference,” Law told Military Times. “Range is a function of the optics. The bigger the mirrors, the farther the range,” he explained to Defense One.
The arrangement also only creates an effect where the two lasers converge, meaning that there’s no broad range in between where the effects are the same. This, in turn, means that it’s less likely to inadvertently hit friendly troops or other bystanders situated between it and that actual target.
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