From the subscription protected portion of the article, a selection of tools to look forward to:
Less-lethal weapons in development include microwave beams, acoustic blasts and knockout drugs, but there is no independent, peer-reviewed research on their health effects.
The Pentagon has designed the microwave and acoustic weapons, which it plans to use to disperse crowds. The Area Denial System shines a broad microwave beam into a crowd, painfully heating people’s skin and making them flee (New Scientist, 23 July, p 26). But calculations by physicist Jurgen Altmann at the University of Dortmund in Germany suggest the system will have a beam width of up to 5 metres. “In an invisible beam that wide, which way will you flee?” he asks. A Pentagon source says it has researched the health effects, but its results are classified.
The Long Range Acoustic Device is an ear-jarring noise generator. It produces a highly directional sound beam far more intense than the loudest noise permitted by US workplace safety laws. At 1 metre from the device, the intensity can be 151 decibels. “This is enough to produce ear pain and endanger hearing,” Altmann told the conference.
Knockout drug pellets, delivered by weapons not unlike a paintball gun, are also on the way. Anaesthetist Jitka Schreiberova of Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic, is experimenting with different mixtures of surgical anaesthetics to make a fast-acting immobiliser. Based on benzodiazepines, ketamine and alpha-2 agonists – substances that activate alpha-2 receptors within the central nervous system, causing sedation – Schreiberova says she has so far immobilised macaque monkeys and human volunteers in 2 to 4 minutes.
“Some people might say this also contravenes the Chemical Weapons Treaty,” says Andrew Mazzara of the Institute for Non-Lethal Defense Technologies at Penn State University.