Wednesday, 24 Dec, 2008 Technology
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Pain Beam Devices to Help US Police Subdue Suspects

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Experts at the research unit of the US Department of Justice are working on the creation of two non-lethal weapons that would use laser light or microwaves to cause pain from a distance. The police will use the new weapons to subdue suspects. The devices are under development by the National Institute of Justice, a research, development and evaluation agency of the US Department of Justice.

Both projects are being developed on knowledge collected from the controversial project of Pentagon, called Active Denial System, which for the first time was shown to the public in 2007. The ADS uses a 2 meter beam, consisted of short microwaves, to hot up skin's outer layer, thus causing pain to a person.

The new non-lethal weapons will use technology similar to ADS but their beams will be only a few centimeters across. These devices are developed to elicit a repel reaction (a strong urge to break away from the beam). Experts at NIJ favor the new weapons over those that cause blunt trauma, like rubber bullets. However, unlike weapons that cause blunt traumas, the new devices are being developed to cause pain with almost no signs of injury.

It is worth noting that current blunt trauma weapons may break bones or in some cases even kill, thus the new project is quite welcome. At the same time Pentagon's ADS had problems too - experts carried out a thousand tests during which two people reported second-degree burns.

Researchers called the new laser weapon Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response, shortly PHaSR. It looks like a massive rifle. PHaSR was created in 2005 and it was used by the US air force agency with the goal of temporarily dazzling enemies. NIJ engineers upgraded the device so it would also heat up human skin. They believe the weapon could be used in prison, law enforcement and a variety of other scenarios.

The second weapon of NIJ currently represents a tabletop prototype, its range is less than a meter. According to the agency's spokesperson, a 15-meter range backpack-sized prototype will be presented to the public in 2009. Engineers believe that a portable mini-ADS device may prove to be rather useful due to the fact that microwaves are able to penetrate human skin more effectively than the infra-red beam.

It is worth mentioning that researchers performed a lot of studies on the effects of microwaves o human skin, but there has been very little research made on the impact of lasers on humans. According to human rights groups, police equipped with the new weapons would bring more issues. Steve Wright, security expert at Leeds Metropolitan University says that the new devices represent "torture at the touch of a button".

"We have grave concerns about the deployment and use of any such devices, which have the potential to be used for torture or other ill treatment," says Helen Hughes, arms control researcher at Amnesty International. She outlined that all studies on the impact of the new weapons should be made public.

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