The research arm of the US Department of Justice is working on two portable non-lethal weapons that inflict pain from a distance using beams of laser light or microwaves, with the intention of putting them into the hands of police to subdue suspects.
The two devices under development by the civilian National Institute of Justice both build on knowledge gained from the Pentagon’s controversial Active Denial System (ADS) – first demonstrated in public last year, which uses a 2-metre beam of short microwaves to heat up the outer layer of a person’s skin and cause pain.
Like the ADS, the new portable devices will also heat the skin, but will have beams only a few centimetres across. They are designed to elicit what the Pentagon calls a “repel response” – a strong urge to escape from the beam.
A spokesperson for the National Institute for Justice likens the effect of the new devices to that of “blunt trauma” weapons such as rubber bullets, “But unlike blunt trauma devices, the injury should not be present. This research is looking to reduce the injuries to suspects,” they say.
Existing blunt trauma weapons can break ribs or even kill, making alternatives welcome. Yet ADS has recorded problems too – out of several thousand tests on human subjects there were two cases of second-degree burns.