By Patricia Daukantas
At the climax of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1954 thriller, Rear Window, Jimmy Stewart’s character fends off a murderer by firing flashbulbs in his face. A half-century later, the Department of Homeland Security has invested $1 million in an LED-based device that could accomplish the same feat.
A company called Intelligent Optical Systems Inc. of Torrance, Calif., has been developing the gizmo—dubbed the LED Incapacitator—as a non-lethal weapon that will temporarily blind and disorient criminal suspects who would otherwise put up a fight.
According to a Homeland Security newsletter, the LED Incapacitator looks something like a big flashlight, but it has a large cluster of red, green and blue LEDs focused through a microstructured optical plate. “A built-in rangefinder measures the distance to the nearest pair of eyeballs,” the newsletter says. “Then, a ‘governor’ sets the output and pulse train (a series of pulses and rests) to a level, frequency, and duration that are effective, but safe. The colors and pulses continuously change, leaving no time for the brain or eyes to adapt.”
The dazzling—and, according to some, nauseating—effect is supposed to wear off after a few minutes, just like the reaction to a bright camera flash. According to a recent USA Today article, the United States is a signatory to a 1995 treaty that bans permanently blinding weapons. However, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross expressed concern to USA Today that Incapacitator-like devices, or lasers that are more dangerous than the LED-based gizmo, could show up on the black market and be used against law enforcement officials.
Researchers at the Pennsylvania State University plan to test the LED Incapacitator on human volunteers this fall, and by 2010 the device could join pepper spray and stun guns in police and border-patrol arsenals.
2007-09 September, Miscellaneous Optics