WASHINGTON (PNN) - September 4, 2020 - It may sound like something you only see in science fiction movies, but experts say we may be just a few years away from “talking lasers” that have the power to beam messages right into our heads.
A military initiative known as the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate is working on laser weapons that are capable of transmitting clear snippets of speech across great distances. The program develops ways to stun, deter and otherwise stop adversaries without killing them.
One weapon they are working on uses a “laser-induced plasma effect,” which sees a high-powered laser being fired to create a ball of plasma. A second laser is then shot to oscillate this plasma, which has the effect of creating sound waves. When enough of these bursts are fired from the laser at the right frequencies, the vibrations of the plasma will sound just like human speech. This technology could be used by military personnel to target specific people with warnings or messages without putting themselves at risk.
A military-ready version of this weapon could be ready for use in five years. Although it can pass through glass into buildings, it cannot yet penetrate other types of solid barriers. The technology would therefore be best used for protecting static areas like permanent installations and forward bases, experts say. With the right power source, it could be mounted to a small vehicle to serve as mobile crowd control to keep individuals away from convoys.
These lasers could be used to keep perimeters secure instead of sending troops out there in person to tell people they need to move. It can give voice commands such as, “Stop or we’ll be forced to fire upon you.”
Pentagon scientists are hoping to create a version of the laser that is capable of beaming clear messages hundreds of miles away. With such a laser, orders could even be sent down from an aircraft.
These lasers can also target people with heat that feels like microscopic pin pricks right through their clothing. This causes a very uncomfortable feeling that prompts people to move out of the way quickly. Although they claim the drilling of the laser does not cause damage, it sets off nerve responses that can lead to extreme discomfort.
The same laser can also be used as an ongoing flashbang grenade that can create repeated sounds to confuse or disorient people. Standard flashbang grenades can only make one or two loud blasts.
MIT researchers are working on a version of the talking laser that is focused at civilians. Their prototype, which was described in the Optics Letters journal, employs a laser beam that wiggles water molecules in the air near a listener’s ear. This creates calculated molecular collisions that generate sound waves. The researchers say these lasers could be used to send messages to specific people across crowded rooms or warn individuals about dangerous situations.
The goal is to come up with a single system that can produce a variety of different effects - such as light, heat and noise - to replace several current non-lethal weapons that produce similar effects individually.
The idea of a safer way for our military to send messages without putting themselves in harm’s way is a good one, but like many inventions that appear to have relatively noble purposes on the surface, it is not hard to imagine all the ways that firing talking plasma laser balls could be used for nefarious purposes. What could these voices be used to drive people to do?