- Weapons designed to fire "electric bullets"
into crowds are being developed for police and border protection agencies
in the US.
- The Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency,
the domestic equivalent of the defence agency DARPA, has launched an "innovative
less-lethal devices for law enforcement" programme to radically expand
the capabilities of electric shock weapons.
- Existing stun weapons, such as the Taser, typically fire
a pair of darts trailing current-carrying wires to shock the target, with
a maximum range of about 7 metres. The HSARPA programme aims to develop
wireless weapons that can be used over greater distances in spaces such
as "an auditorium, a city street or a sports stadium".
- Lynntech of College Station, Texas, is developing a projectile
that can be fired from a shotgun or 40-millimetre grenade launcher. Grenade
launchers are already used by riot police to fire tear gas and baton rounds.
On impact, the device sticks to the target and delivers an 80,000-volt
shock for 7 seconds, using a pulsed delivery similar to that used by Tasers.
Further shocks can be triggered via remote control.
- Brian Hennings, system integration group leader at Lynntech,
would not reveal how the projectile sticks to the person, although other
weapons designed to adhere often use hooks or barbs. "The biggest
problem was making the device non-lethal at minimum range, yet effective
at maximum range," he says.
- Hennings claims Lynntech has solved this by ensuring
that its round's kinetic energy is low enough to meet the safety requirement
at close range. As the projectile does not rely on impact with the body
to incapacitate the person, it does not need to be fired at very high velocity.
The weapon's maximum range is measured in tens of metres, the company says.
- Meanwhile, Mide Technology Corporation of Medford, Massachusetts,
is proposing the Piezer. Rather than conventional stun-gun circuitry, with
batteries linked to transformers and a capacitor, the Piezer contains piezoelectric
crystals, which produce a voltage when they are compressed. The Piezer
would be fired from a 12-gauge shotgun, stunning the target with an electric
shock on impact. Shotguns are already used to fire less-lethal "beanbag"
rounds to subdue suspects, but these have short range. Midé claims
the Piezer could be effective at 40 to 50 metres.
- Using a different principle again is the Inertial Capacitive
Incapacitator (ICI) being developed by the Physical Optics Corporation
of Torrance, California. It uses a thin-film charge storage device that
is charged during manufacture and only discharges when it strikes the target.
It can be incorporated into a ring-shaped aerofoil that can be fired from
a standard grenade launcher at low velocity, while still maintaining a
flat trajectory for maximum accuracy. The company claims this should reduce
the impact force.
- The first prototypes are expected to be delivered to
HSARPA by the end of the year. But Tobias Feakin of the Non-lethal Weapons
Research Project at the University of Bradford in the UK warns that manufacturers'
claims should not be taken at face value. "Without thorough independent
testing we cannot ascertain their usefulness, effectiveness or safety,"
- - From issue 2512 of New Scientist magazine, 15 August
2005, page 30
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