August 10, 2007 A real life “light saber” that can subdue anyone in its path? This new type of non-lethal weapon comes in the form of a flashlight that totally incapacitates whoever looks into it. The LED (Light Emitting Diode) Incapacitator has been devised by Californian research and design company Intelligent Optical Systems, with funding from the US Department of Homeland Security. It emits bright pulses of light at rapidly changing wavelengths that cause disorientation, temporary blindness, nausea, and even vomiting. The handheld device, which has already been dubbed the “puke saber”, is currently in its prototype stage, but soon could be a conceivable weapon used by authorities to restrain offenders. Sources from Homeland Security say that it could be in the hands of thousands of policemen, border agents and National Guardsmen by 2010.
The LED Incapacitator works by emitting a strobe of ultra-bright, multicolored, pulsing light. Once pointed at an individual, the built in range finder measures the distance to the nearest set of eyes and then adjusts the level, output and frequency of this beam, to unleash an optimal and continuously changing pulse. This results in giving the eyes and the brain no time to adapt, and whilst temporarily blinding the subject, it also causes a disorientating effect. Hence, the subject is overwhelmed by the strobe both physiologically and psychophysically. Inventors of the LED Incapacitator, Bob Lieberman and Vladimir Rubtsov, say that the effect of having the light shone into your eyes wears off within a few minutes. They are reportedly taking great care to make sure the strength and duration of the strobe falls within all safety guidelines for the eyes. “There’s one wavelength that gets everybody,” says Lieberman. “Vlad calls it the evil color.”
With the sometimes controversial Taser now being used extensively by security forces around the world, and available to the general consumer as a non-lethal defensive weapon, the LED Incapacitator may be seen as a safer alternative. This new venture by the US Homeland Security Department may be utilized as a replacement for the Taser for use by its forces. It has potential applications in any form of law enforcement from border security to demobilizing a mob, while not affecting innocent bystanders.
Opponents of the LED Incapacitator say that once the device is able to be mass produced and easily attainable, it could be sold on the black market. This presents many issues, including use of the flashlight by those fighting against the law. Peter Herby from the International Committee of the Red Cross raised his concerns lately by asking: “Once they're in the hands of bad guys, are the police going to have to wear protective gear to prevent them(selves) from being dazzled?" It seems that this new addition to the non-lethal weapon inventory, will face similar concerns to the Taser when it comes to misuse.
Development of the prototype is about to enter into phase two, where it will be tested on volunteers at Pennsylvania State University in the coming months. Intelligent Optical Systems will use these test results to evaluate and update design features, with a predicted release late in 2010. The team still wants to overcome the challenge of making the puke saber smaller, so it can be carried easily. At its current dimensions of 15 inches long and 4 inches wide, the device can be handheld, but is far from portable. It can easily be scaled up to increase output, but designers also plan to reduce the size of the LED Incapacitator.