Dystopia watch: a roundup of the DOD's new less-lethal weapons

There's the "Laser-Induced Plasma Effect" (one laser dislodges atmospheric electrons and spins up plasma; a second blows up the ionizing gas "to release an ear-splitting burst of sound energy"); there's the "Variable Kinetic System" that "fires 180 rounds of micro-­pulverized burning irritant (or stink bombs or inky liquid)" and there's the "Pre-Emplaced Electric Vehicle Stopper" ("emits high-voltage pulses that disrupt the vehicle's engine").

Rebecca Heilwei's roundup of the DoD's less-lethal weapons program is awfully willing to give the DoD and its private-sector contractors the benefit of the doubt, from the use of the term "nonlethal" (a propaganda term used to promote the unrealistic idea that these things won't kill people) to the uncritical repetition of the DoD and its contractors' description of the effects of these weapons (for example, the statement that the Pre-Emplaced Electric Vehicle Stopper "won't electrocute the passengers" — but will it stop their pacemakers? Trigger their implanted defibrillators? Short out their cochlear implants? Glitch out their artificial pancreases? Trigger seizures?).

The story would be better served with a large helping of the approach of pioneering Wired cover-woman Limor "Lady Ada" Fried, whose Open Source Non-Lethal Weapons project is a critical investigation into how these weapons perform in the real world, under independent scrutiny.

2. Carbon Nanotube Thermophone

Instead of a traditional loudspeaker's array of cones, coils, and magnets, this lightweight projector pushes heat currents through cylinders of pure, finely twisted carbon. Rapidly warming and cooling these tubes creates noise, a technique that, the Defense Department hopes, could one day imbue tiny drones with the power to scream "Drop your weapons, enemy scum!"

3. Pre-Emplaced Electric Vehicle Stopper

At Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, the DOD is experimenting with electrified speed bumps. When the ground panels detect incoming wheels, they emit high-voltage pulses that disrupt the vehicle's engine—but won't electrocute the passengers, giving guards more time to investigate suspicious visitors.

The Ingredients Powering the DOD's New Nonlethal Weapons [Rebecca Heilwei/Wired]

(Image: Jeremy Perrodeau/Wired)