Thou shall not kill: Millions flowing to develop non-lethal defense technology

The development of bigger, better and more effective weapons that won’t kill people but rather stun, immobilize or scare them half to death is one of the hottest fields in science. For example today The Pennsylvania State University's Institute of Non-Lethal Defense Technologies (INLDT) was warded $3.2 million by the US Department of Justice to develop non-lethal weapons technology.  Non-lethal technologies can come in a variety of packages that might include everything from riot batons, pepper spray and rubber bullets to  incapacitating ray guns or radiofrequency  weapons.While the law enforcement community is obviously interested in such non-lethal technologies,  many non-lethal weapons are being developed for military use.  For example the US Navy is looking at what it calls "directed energy weapons. " Ionatron, earlier this year won an almost $10 million contract from the U.S. Navy to continue developing of its Laser Induced Plasma Channel (LIPC) technology. According to the company's Website, its devices produce " man-made lightning" to disable people or vehicles that threaten our security."  Basically is a short pulse laser that can be directed at a target with ferocious intensity. The company also notes that the gun is available in lethal and non-lethal versions. The Department of Defense is currently testing the Active Denial System (ADS), which fires pain-inducing beams of 95-GHz radio waves, for deployment on ground vehicles. (By comparison, microwave ovens operate at around 2.5 GHz.)  The Active Denial System is being adapted for possible use as a battlefield weapon  and as a security measure for nuclear facilities. The ADS heats a target's skin, producing a sensation similar to having a light bulb pressed against flesh. This surface heating doesn't actually burn the target, but is painful enough to force a retreat. Penn State’s  Web site says non-lethal technologies include a broad range of technologies designed to modify an individual's motivation or behavior (e.g., single aggressors and barricaded suspects), manage crowds, support custody/corrections operations (e.g., prisoner disorder and prison riots), and conduct specialized operations (e.g., vehicle pursuit and hostage rescue). Additionally, these technologies support law enforcement and military applications in the areas of area and site security, disruption of infrastructure, barriers and area denial, and denying the use of equipment or materials, according to Penn State. The INLTD will manage the Center and focus on the areas of less-lethal munitions and devices, school safety and pursuit management that deals with technologies associated with the pursuit of fleeing suspects or perpetrators, the group stated.  The INLDT will team with Penn State Fayette's Center for Community and Public Safety in Western Pennsylvania and the National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center - Rocky Mountain at the Denver Research Institute of the University of Denver. The Rocky Mountain group  has unique facilities available through the University of Denver, allowing training, demonstrations and workshops involving live explosives firing, DNA evidence processing and materials science, Penn State said in a release.

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.