UK tests "non-blinding" police lasers

The makers of a "non-blinding" laser claims an unnamed UK police force is set to trial the weapon as a means of "controlling riots." According to the manufacturer -- who developed the weapon for use against pirates in Somalia -- the laser can "temporarily" blind its victims at 500m. It is meant to provide "an intimidating visual deterrent" because "If you can't look at something you can't attack it."

My friend Sulka, who brought this to my attention, has some informed speculation about what "non-blinding" might mean. He notes that the UK is a signatory on the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons (I didn't know this existed, and I'm both glad and sad that it does), whose definition of blindness "is where your eyesight goes worse than 20/200, meaning you can't see the *largest* letter in a Snellen chart when looking at it with *both* eyes."

So that means that this weapon wouldn't run afoul of international law if it (merely) reduced your vision to the point where you were impaired but not legally blind, permanently.

Meanwhile, Twitter wags are already predicting a resurgence of mirrorshades among protesters, which means that everything the cyberpunks predicted in the mid-80s is finally coming true. I always thought that Anon was basically an analog to the Panther Moderns.

Police test for riot laser that can temporarily blind

(Image: Redfest reject, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from gwdexter's photostream)

(Image: London riot police, November 2010, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from hozinja's photostream)


  1. In the coming years, I suspect anyone who can successfully design, produce, market, and sell affordable personal protection for protestors stands to make a lot of money. Specifically impact resistant body armor with insulation to protect against tazers, and face masks and helmets with gas filters, hearing and vision guards, and radio communicators.

    Paint it all some bright, vibrant color other than BLACK and you even can tell the difference between the armed police officers and the unarmed protestors!

    1. While I couldn’t cite a specific law (though would seem likely it’d be under the “going equipped for a particular crime”, or possibly conspiracy/terrorism laws) I have no doubt it’s already illegal to own most of these things, or at VERY least easy to rationalise into an arrest/confiscation under something.

      And frankly even if it wasn’t, if the people the police are trying to arrest are equipped to prevent them doing so, the police force gets to call in more potent equipment to enable it. And the state has the vast logistical advantage. If such kits became common, “protests” would rapidly evolve into live-fire running street battles against your own countries military. Arms races are like that.

      However the first time one of these gets field tested, I hope some protesters just have laser-pointers on them. Point them at overhead aircraft. Just one pilot reports getting dazzled and they won’t be able to prove it wasn’t the crowd-control device that did it via some random reflection. As a hazard to air-traffic I could see them getting banned pretty fast. Leverage collateral damage to corporations and paying customers against it.

      1. none of the items mentioned should be illegal, but as you said would just begin a riot protection/attack arms race.

      2. We’re already in an arms race: it’s people sitting there vs. militarized ‘paralethal’ weaponry.

        “”protests” would rapidly evolve into live-fire running street battles against your own countries military. ”

        Look to Chicago in the spring. Protester Protection or not, I’m sure there will be both live-fire and running.

      3. “If such kits became common, “protests” would rapidly evolve into live-fire running street battles against your own countries military. ”

        It’s time to trot out those old lyrics again.

        “Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming
        we’re finally on our own…”

  2. Gibson’s world is totally coming true, what with corporations sneakily becoming conflated with government. Just give it a few more years.

  3. The only reason these people read the laws on what is prohibited is so they can find ways around those rules.

    “Be thou the loophole in the law.” – Alister Cheeney

  4. ianal, but i think the protocol on blinding laser weapons only applies to combatants (i.e. – military personnel.) so i predict you’ll have the US govt defining OWS protesters as “enemy combatants” so they can be whisked away to gitmo (or perhaps less ominously, be legal targets of CS gas.) but then have the UK govt define them as civilian protesters so they can be blinded w/ these things.

    either way, wouldn’t it just be easier on everyone if we instituted policies that didn’t rob wealth from the middle class, thus obviating the need for protests in the first place? #justsayin

    also. w00t! i’ve been promoted to “twitter wag!”!/OhMeadhbh/status/146260471371137024

    1. wouldn’t it just be easier on everyone if we instituted policies that didn’t rob wealth from the middle class, thus obviating the need for protests in the first place?

      EXACTLY.  I wonder how much money is diverted from education, single payer healthcare and job creation in order to focus all this attention on civil unrest?

      Absolutely pointless insanity.  We invest all this money into destroying ourselves instead of investing into each other and our collective future.

      This madness has to stop.

      1. I’ve had to fish most of your comments out of the spam bin today. Sometimes twice. I’m going to suggest that you not use bold type or masked links for a couple of weeks.

    2. “I predict you’ll have the US govt defining OWS protesters as “enemy combatants” so they can be whisked away to gitmo (or perhaps less ominously, be legal targets of CS gas.)”

      OWS protesters have already been the targets of tear gas, most notably in Oakland.

      Whether any protesters have been taken away to secret detention centers, well… who knows at this point?

  5. If this works as advertised is there any reason to believe this would be a worse option than CS spray, water cannon or baton charges as a way of dealing with a violent crowd?

    That’s assuming anyone is prepared to believe in the existence of a violent crowd round these parts.

    1. I’m guessing your reading comprehension doesn’t extend to three-syllable words like “permanent”.

    2. If this works as advertised, there may still be a reason to attenuate the use of the technology. A worse option? We’re not discussing a controlled experiment, reductionist-method-with-a-mechanistic-model-tracer ideal scenario… so the worse bit depends on which discreet example we look at. Maybe lots worse, maybe way less worse.
           Violent crowds? Look up Sturgeon’s Second Law… see Affair With A Green Monkey (short story), w/re: the I.Q. of a mob. That should illustrate my angle in an obtuse, yet clear and rewarding fashion.

    3. I want you to consider how Tasers and Oleoresin Capsicum were presented to a once skeptical public. The arms dealers who hawked OC Spray didn’t say that their products could be used for torture, or against non violent resisters. Instead, they presented it as being less lethal than a bullet, and an alternative to shedding blood. Now, of course, we have trigger happy police thugs using it in a casual, unsafe, and abusive manner.

      We are now asked to consider the use of lasers. Shouldn’t we focus our energies instead on how such weapons can and will be abused? Only after considering how to minimize the possibility of abuse should we even begin to consider the proper use and role of police lasers.

    1. Waterboarding became “legal” because the White House said that anything that didn’t cause organ failure or death was fair game.

      1. It’s all in the marketing. Maybe that Fox News anchor who called pepper spray a “food product” was on to something:

        Pepper Spray = Food Product
        Waterboarding = Moisturizing treatment
        Tasers = TENS therapy
        Fire Hoses = Beverage Service
        Blinding Lasers = Free Discotheque

      2. Mind you, they don’t follow that organ failure or death standard, or they would have to give up guns, tasers, pepper spray, tear gas, and the whole idea of pain compliance, since any of these can cause organ failure and/or death.

        1.  “Does not cause organ failure or death at a rate sufficient to generate more wrongful death & injury lawsuits than the product user can afford to pay.”

  6. All we want is Molly turning up…
    This doesn’t even need to be laser based, just use high power LED’s.
    A bunch of Cree XL-M’s in an array would be seriously blinding, especially on a strobe setting. I have a 1200Lumen Cree XM-L flashlight, and in flash mode, which is somewhat slower than a strobe setting, it’s impossible to look directly at it, it’s really painful to the eyes.

  7. I guess I’m missing something about the “mirror shades” (child of cyberpunk though I am). Is there something intrinsic to this style of sunglasses that causes the laser to decohere? I mean the lenses have to let light in (otherwise they’d be expensive blindfolds), so why not coherent light?

    As a side pondering (since I really don’t know a whole lot about optics other than an undergrad physics class), would a polarized lens offer some sort of protection?

  8. Just wait till these get on the black market. You’ll have muggings and the victim won’t be able to tell what happened because they were blinded.

  9. A simple corner reflector or even reflective tape, which is pretty much a bunch of very small corner reflectors, would be a pretty effective deterrent.

    I’m reminded of the time AT&T in the old Bell-System days had a problem with people using phone booths as rest rooms. Their solution was a piece of curved metal on the inside wall that would direct a stream right back at the user.

  10. >flosofl:

    >Is there something intrinsic to this style of
    >sunglasses that causes the laser to decohere?


    >I mean the lenses have to
    let light in >(otherwise they’d be expensive blindfolds), >so why not
    coherent light?

    If the lasers all come in one standard color (my money is on green) you would get something that blocked all of that color.

    >As a side pondering (since I really don’t >know a
    whole lot about optics other than an >undergrad physics class), would a
    polarized >lens offer some sort of protection?

    Only against polarized light.

  11. Um, if the cops start using these on peaceful OWS protestors, we will make it our life’s mission to dispense them to OWS protestors en masse as well.


  12. Of course, other treaties apply here. For example, proportionality under the European Convention of Human Rights.

    1. My understanding is that the legal definition of blindness is that eyesight can’t be corrected to better than 20-200. I have 20-20 vision corrected, however I couldn’t even see the chart on the wall (it looks like a white blob) without my glasses. As long as I have my corrective lenses, the law says that I can drive.

  13. So someone seems to think that the use of so-called “non-lethal” weapons will stop the protests.  Yes they will all give up and go home where they belong.  WRONG!  The Syrian government is using LETHAL weapons on their people and it is not stopping them.  Nothing is going to stop this movement until the issue of income inequality among others is properly addressed.  The genie is out of the bottle, he is not going back in and he is mad as hell! 

  14. Since green is the most likely laser color (second harmonic of the laser’s fundamental wavelength and peak of human eye sensitivity), a set of “minus green” laser eyewear would defeat this weapon. Amber sunglasses might come close. Get your hands on a green laser pointer and try various models of sunglasses, then post the best to the internet and watch the fun.

    Of course, when they dial up the laser power to “cause discomfort” (burn you), the game changes to metal suits and reflective shields.

    If a laser is powerful enough to impair vision, deliberately pointing it at someone is an attack. With the ready availability of powerful green laser pointers, I think the authorities wouldn’t want to up the ante in this area of technology.

    1. Dude, they already make those.  Science types need to protect their eyes from super-strong lasers all the time.

      1. Dude, I’m one of those science types. But “real” laser safety eyewear can cost $150 a pair. Wal Mart  sunglasses might provide much of the protection at a fraction of the price.

  15. Well, we’ve already given the police power to maim by letting them use LRADs which are exactly powerful enough to quickly cause permanent hearing loss.  Now we’re authorizing them to blind people too.  Fuck, dude, can we just bring back the billy clubs?  I’d much prefer a few broken ribs to being permanently blind and deaf.

  16. I’ve been saying this for a few years now: the reason nobody thinks cyberpunk is cool anymore is its becoming our horrific crappy sinister reality day by day. I really liked cyberpunk too. I just didn’t want to live it.

  17. It’s a stunning vote of confidence in the UK police that when they say “controlling riots” we immediately picture harmless protesters getting the shit kicked out of them.

    1. re: “controlling riots” – i think some part of you still wants to read that as ‘riots being controlled by police’ rather than the modern and more accurate interpretation ‘riots by police to show who is in control’

  18. Came here for Molly reference… leaving satisfied. 
    “When they think you are technical, go crude.  I am a very technical boy”

  19. This stuff is nothing! Check out the big guns as far as protest/riot control goes the PEP
    Basically its an invisible laser which creates a small exploding plasma on surface which produces both a pressure wave to knocks you to the ground, and more alarmingly the explosion also produces electromagnetic radiation which interacts with your nerve tissue causing you to feel pain, even though you may not be in any.
    Also causes paralysis possibly, can also be tuned to be lethal as it was originally intended to be.

    Also be careful about protective items, anything that protects you from police weapons will likely be classified as a weapon, Police in New Zealand in 1981 classified helmets, shields, flour bombs and signs as dangerous weapons, in spite of the fact that police tactics warranted this kind of protection. And that was just to protect the success of a sporting event!!!! Imagine what they’ll pull out to protect their system and status!

  20. This is nothing other than the good old dazzler.

    As someone already said here, the most likely wavelength is the 532nm DPSS Nd:YAG/KTP. Other ones are possible as well, perhaps blue or red semiconductor lasers.

    There is a simple defense against all of them – the laser protection goggles, available for about $50 on eBay, will do a good job here, assuming you know the wavelength in advance.

    Another possibility, that would work against even unknown wavelength sources, is a self-darkening welding helmet. The LCD shutter in this thing is bloody fast and reacts automatically.

    Stereo glasses for 3d TV contain similar shutters. They can be hacked to become an equivalent of self-darkening welding helmets.

    Remember that we do not need a total attenuation. To stay non-lethal, the energy that can be delivered to an unprotected eye has to have an upper limit. The energy that causes temporary blindness has another, lower value; the dazzler has to get into this window. If an additional eye protection device can attenuate the beam sufficiently, we have virtually guaranteed retaining of visual capability even when the weapon is deployed.

    Conversely, the eye has a range of light levels (energy fluxes) in which it can operate satisfyingly. The protective device must not bring the energy below this range. Wavelength-specific filters and shutter-based devices neatly work around this limitation.

    As an exotic option, vanadium doped zinc telluride is said to become opaque at higher energy densities, and only at the given direction; a dazzler beam then can be absorbed without absorbing noncoherent light coming from other directions.

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