The Pentagon is making lasers that create voices out of thin air

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Being able to use lasers to create sound opens up a weird array of new use cases, from crowd control to just plain being able to freak people out…

 

Within three years, the US Pentagon’s non-lethal weapons lab hopes to have a direct energy weapon that can produce an effect like a haunted walkie-talkie or the biblical burning bush, and they’re using the same technology that was recently used to create some interesting interactive holograms to do it.

 

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Watch the video below and listen carefully for what sounds like a human voice, albeit a very creepy one, during the second spin. That’s not an audio recording or a broadcast transmitted over radio…it’s not human at all. It’s an auditory effect that’s created by military scientists who manipulated the air with lasers — and it’s the Pentagon’s most interesting idea for stopping people charging checkpoints, or just scaring the crap out of them.

The US military’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Program, or JNLWD, is inching closer to a weapon that alters atoms to literally create words from thin air. It’s called the Laser-Induced Plasma Effect and, fingers crossed, they hope to be able to say intelligible words within the next three years.

 

Lasers that talk… weird but now a thing?

 

The weapon is composed of two parts: first, a femtosecond laser, which shoots a burst of focused light for 10−15 seconds, just long enough to rip the electrons from air molecules and create a ball of plasma. Sometimes called the fourth state of matter, plasma is a field of electrified gas, highly responsive to electromagnetic effects. The scientists then hit that plasma field with a second nanolaser, tuned to an extremely narrow range of wavelengths. They use that to manipulate the plasma field in a way that can produce light and noise. Get the interaction precise enough and you get something that sounds like a haunted walkie-talkie.

 

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“We’re this close to getting it to speak to us. I need three or four more kilohertz,” says David Law, who runs JNLWD’s technology division. Ultimately, he wants a single system that can produce multiple effects — noise, light, even heat — and replace a wide variety of non-lethal weapons that the military has been testing.

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