UK police testing laser rifle to blind rioters


December 18, 2011

Police in the UK are currently testing an anti-riot laser that temporarily blinds targets

Police in the UK are currently testing an anti-riot laser that temporarily blinds targets

After riots this past summer left parts of the UK in shambles, it's no wonder that police in that part of the world are looking for new methods of crowd control. Since the usual methods for subduing rioters were seen as largely ineffective against their sheer numbers at the time, police have been looking into new tactics as well as non-lethal weapons to replace the standard tasers and tear gas. To that end, the next time someone tries to loot a store in England, they may find themselves literally struck blind thanks to a new riot laser currently being tested called the "SMU 100."

The SMU 100 was originally developed to combat pirates in Somalia (much like a similar device from BAE Systems), but in the wake of the UK riots this summer the focus for the project has shifted towards controlling rioters. The shoulder-mounted laser emits a flash of light about three meters (9.8 ft) across, which can effectively blind a target up to 500 meters (1,640 ft) away; much farther than tear gas and tasers.

Being blinded by the laser has been compared to looking directly at the sun until being forced to turn away. The design for it comes from former Royal Marine Commando Paul Kerr, who is now the managing director of Photonic Security Systems. Kerr sums up the basic concept behind the laser quite well: "The system would give police an intimidating visual deterrent. If you can't look at something you can't attack it."

Currently a police force is set to run field trials with the SMU 100, though Photonic Security Systems will not disclose the exact location. The trials will determine not only their usefulness in the field but whether the blinding process carries any unknown side effects. If the laser passes the various health checks and is accepted by the Home Secretary, it could become standard equipment for any police force willing to pay the GBP25,000 (approx. US$39,000) price tag.

Source: BBC

About the Author
Jonathan Fincher Jonathan grew up in Norway, China, and Trinidad before graduating film school and becoming an online writer covering green technology, history and design, as well as contributing to video game news sites like Filefront and 1Up. He currently resides in Texas, where his passions include video games, comics, and boring people who don't want to talk about either of those things. All articles by Jonathan Fincher
20 Comments lawsuits or nasty side effects there. Just lase them.


An Australian company invented asimilar blinder in Brisbane in the 1980's but there were efforts to stop it. I agreed at the time because the blinder did irreversible damage. We now have lasers that don't do permanent damage. A riot blinder that has a 3 second residual effect will work for a while until someone came up with a pair of anti-laser glasses. I can see how someone might make them work.

Wesley Bruce

At least with the high price tag they won\'t be handing them out to every cop like tazers and pepper spray. Too many of them don\'t seem to understand that non-lethal is not the same as non-harmful and shouldn\'t be used just because they\'re frustrated. However I don\'t think they\'ve thought this through very well. The only thing I can think of worse than an angry violent mob is a blind angry violent panicked mob. I instantly foresee trampling deaths and injuries. And it\'s not better just because the police didn\'t inflict them directly.


I bet there will be health side effects here. And I bet that managing director of Photonic Security Systems is not willing to be \"temporarily\" laser blinded once a week to demonstrate that there are no side effects.


Test this in good old South Africa as well

Edmund Kendrew

So, am I really the first one who though of mirrors within 3 seconds of reading the title?

Gustavo Rocha

Countermeasures: Sunglasses or laser protection glasses won\'t do, if it\'s white light they are directing at you. You\'d need the Things you wear to watch a solar eclipse, and they are pretty dark if looking somewhere else.

Mirrors wouldn\'t help either, because of the spread. The the weapon illuminates an area of 3 Meters. Lets say those results in 3 square meters. If you have a 50x50cm mirror (0.25 sqm) You return less than 10 % of the light which will be spread again and reduced by another 10%. That is, if you can redirect the light successfully at all, which won\'t be easy. You can either aim at the light-gun and be blinded after the first flash or hide behind it and don\'t aim at all.

That said, the definition of \"riots\" is somewhat vague and sometimes gets extended to include demonstrations. As with non-lethal weapons, a light-gun that doesn\'t cause permanent damage might be used more often.


Maybe they should look at why people are so unhappy instead of looking for ways to subdue them. I think the guy who came up with this should be shot in the eye with it.

Jason Brooks

Nowhere in the article does it say whether rioters would be blinded only when looking the direction of the rifle, for life, or temporarily. Just putting up a wall of intense light from the rifle would work well. Temporarily would certainly leave wandering rioters not sure of which way is out of the situation and possibly running into something, like traffic. Permanently could possibly be grounds for lawsuits if an innocent bystander were blinded.

The article should have been more descriptive that just saying \"blinded\".

Robert Fox

As we saw during OWS, most protesters are already blinded.

Todd Dunning

If it can effectively blind a target at 500m, what will it do at 100m where the beam will be 25 times more intense, or 25 meters at 400x or 10m at 2500x intensity? Stick with teargas. The $39,000 price tag is nothing compared to the lawsuits for permanently blinding a crowd of people.


well, i sure hope the public can also buy these to protect us from the rioting thug police everywhere. cops in america kill more people than are murdered in all of england annually. look at the way they kill anyone for kicks and get acquitted. i\'d just LOVE to see a whole SWAT fumbling around can\'t see anything!

king george wished he could use these on our revolutionaries, eh?

Taz Delaney

Gee, maybe if we make the ultimate crowd control weapon everybody will be happy and go home... not.


So much for \"Western democracies\"! They are thrilled when the people of Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Syria take to the streets, but get super-macho when it\'s in their own back yard. Will British demonstrators be allowed to call in Russian and Chinese forces for help in an \"obligation to protect\"?


Weihan, there\'s a difference between protesting and rioting. There\'s no justification for UK rioters deciding to smash store windows or anything like that. Devices like this aren\'t meant to be used against peaceful protestors; they\'re intended to be able to subdue or disperse large, violent crowds where the numbers are overwhelming compared to the police presence, making standard law enforcement actions unworkable without serious risk of injury to officers.


To subdue large groups of bastards running amok - yes, I am all for pulling out the machine guns.

To quell dissent and uprisings - not so much.

Mr Stiffy

Thieves, rapists and other criminals will quickly be buying these on the black market, just as modern drug cartels, thugs and rapists are now doing with tasers. The overreaction shown by some American police will certainly cause many innocent protesters harm with this new weapon.


Once again \"Stiffy\" demonstrates the depth of his thinking...Hey, chief, who decides when it\'s \'running amok\' and when it\'s an \'uprising\'? You, I suppose? It\'s so neat and clean and clever the way you say it...

Jeff Chernoff

Is it possible for the SMU 100 to have an effect on a blind person? Perhaps cause them some eyeball discomfort?

I would guess that the condition of blindness includes a range of biological dysfunctions such that many who are blind could probably still experience pain or some sensation resulting from a powerful burst of photons. Pain might be felt from nerves which are not directly related to the processing of visual information but somehow irritated by the strong pulse of light -- because a biological system is both electrical and chemical (sometimes photonic?) and so the energy of an isolated stimulus would tend to propagate and move through the system as indicated by its intrinsic functional structure.

Sure, a blind person wouldn\'t be losing anything visually if someone shot them with the SMU 100, but maybe some blind people would still find the weapon bothersome?

I guess it all depends on weather or not pain is a normal side effect of the weapon\'s ability to produce disruptions in a person\'s visual perception. When photons from the weapon reach an average human eye, do they create the blindness by somehow exceeding the capacity of the optic nerve to transmit the extraordinary luminosity initiating some protective mechanism of individual neurons (like a breaker being tripped due to sudden voltage spikes) which then limits the voltage potential of a neuron or messes with the sodium / potassium balance --- or --- maybe, is the effect due to the biology of the photoreceptors present in the retina such that the rods and cones are somehow overloaded and so they stop even sending signals along the optic nerve.

So, where are the med students with an interest in laser crowd-control weapons or the blind people reading this article who just happen to understand the biochemistry of their dilemma?

Erik Wilson

Oh My!!! Now we\'re calling an technologically advanced flashlight a \"rifle\". Wouldn\'t do to have our severely threatened and under-armed Police FORCES going up against sign carrying protesters... oops RIOTERS, yeah, call \'em RIOTERS and it\'s alright to use advanced technology against them. Taser them into submission. Mace their dumb butts into the stone age for standing up for their rights as (supposedly) Free Americans. Beat them and their children with billy clubs for daring to come out into public in a group of more than two or three at a time to voice their discontent, anger and desire for replacement of a Government that is no longer working for them but the Corporations that command and control the Police State in which we now live! Oh yeah, make sure you\'re dressed in the world\'s most advanced armor and protected with polycarbonate shields so you don\'t accidentally get bruised or scrape your precious skin while your \"enemy\" is shielded with t-shirts and jeans.

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