Police May Soon Use Pain Guns That Heat Skin With Microwaves

By Eliza Strickland | December 29, 2008 4:36 pm

laser gunIn several years police officers may have laser or microwave guns to point at miscreants, according to the Justice Department’s research and development agency. These nonlethal weapons build on knowledge gained from the Pentagon’s controversial Active Denial System (ADS) – first demonstrated in public last year, which uses a 2-metre-[wide] beam of short microwaves to heat up the outer layer of a person’s skin and cause pain. Like the ADS, the new portable devices will also heat the skin, but will have beams only a few centimetres across. They are designed to elicit what the Pentagon calls a “repel response” – a strong urge to escape from the beam [New Scientist]. But the idea of giving cops a tool capable of instantly inflicting pain from across a town square is raising protests from human rights advocates.

The Justice Department is working on two separate weapons. One, the Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response, or PHaSR, uses an infra-red laser to heat a patch of skin about 4 inches in diameter, and pairs that heat with another bright laser that dazzles the eyes. The PHaSR looks like a bulky rifle, and law enforcement officials say that a cheap, portable version could be very useful to police and prison guards. Sid Heal, formerly a Commander in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (and before that a Marine) , has long been an advocate of non-lethal weapons and thinks the new devices might have potential. “Needless to say, the “market” is so vacant with alternatives that ANYTHING is going to be appealing at this point” [Wired News], says Heal.

The other weapon is a scaled down version of the Pentagon’s Active Denial System, and uses a microwave beam to heat the target’s skin. This device isn’t as far along as the PHaSR–so far it’s a tabletop prototype with a range of about a meter–but researchers say it could ultimately be more effective, as its waves are better able to penetrate clothing and heat the skin underneath. But some critics say that the more effective these devices are, the less they like them. Security expert Steve Wright … describes the new weapons as “torture at the touch of a button”. “We have grave concerns about the deployment and use of any such devices, which have the potential to be used for torture or other ill treatment,” says Amnesty International’s arms control researcher Helen Hughes [New Scientist].

There’s no word yet on when these weapons might be tested in city streets or prison corridors, and many ambivalent commentators seem content to have the ray guns confined to the Justice Department’s labs for the time being. Says one pundit: It’s good news that the police are developing weapons that don’t kill people, but when you look at the way police are all-too-eager to use Tasers, you might consider whether this is a good thing or not. We’re thinking they can be either good or bad, depending on who wields them. While we’re wondering why we can’t all get along, we’re also thinking to ourselves, “Don’t microwave me, bro!” [DVICE].

Related Content:
80beats: Military Tests New Missile Defense System: Lasers Mounted on Jumbo Jets
DISCOVER: Dude, Where’s My Jetpack? explores how close we are to having jetpacks and ray guns
DISCOVER: War Without Death follows the military’s search for nonlethal weapons

Image: U.S. Air Force

  • MikeD

    I’ll take microwaves over high velocity lead any day. Before we critisize researching new pain tools why don’t we look at the tools we give police now, and why they have them. Each officer has the means of lethal enforcement with them at all times, because of the violence they may have to respond to. Non leathal means of accomplishing the same task should be promoted by humanitarians, not opposed just because its a new way to hurt people.

    The fear of course is it may be abused precisely because its not lethal. Any amount of authority can and will be abused. Its the responsibility of trainers and management to minimise this, not the tools of the trade.

  • Tomek

    No, I think the idea that “anything can be abused” is misrepresented if put as an argument for more nonlethal weapons. Bullets should always be limited to situations that may be deadly to the law enforcer, and they largely are in the U.S. So providing a pain ray that will only ever be used in a situation that the law enforcer’s life is not in danger (I.E the pain ray will NOT stop a police officer using a gun on a suspect with a gun, because in any situation their lives are in danger they must protect themselves).

    These tools are largely tools to simply make restraining suspects easier, and with that small benefit create a much bigger potential for abuse.

  • zach

    Unfortunately the trainers and management of police aren’t exactly the best and brightest, neither are the officers themselves. Some are certainly decent and honest, but a high risk job that doesn’t really pay all that well, tends not to attract brilliant minds.

  • IlovePAIN

    I have experimented with IR lasers and microwave tubes, and even though they say these are not permanent harm devices, I have seen what it can do, and for someone in a wheelchair who is not able to run, the effects can be life threatening.

    And I might add that should some Law Enforcement team attempt to use such a device on me, they will quickly find out how fast that device can be defeated, by hot lead.

    For anyone who knows about this technology, you should know that a reflective space blanket will prevent either of those devices from doing much harm to the target, and a person with a space blanket and a big gun could give the users of such a device a real bad day.

  • IlovePAIN

    Also, these devices can be defeated with a front reflective surface mirror, or a polished reflective dish can also be used to reflect the device back to the operator.

    Either way, Our Liberties and Freedoms are being eroded away faster and faster, and George Orwell’s Police state is quickly taking to the streets in an attempt to Dominate the public for their Masters.

    And in case you don’t know who the Masters are, they are the people who OWN the Federal Reserve and World Bank. As long as these people can PAY the Thugs, the Thugs will be willing to Destroy You when told to.

    BUY Long Term Storable Food, times are going to get real bad soon, and if you can’t grow your own food, you will be helpless to resist, and you will be at the Mercy of the Masters.

  • IlovePAIN

    If the Government had not made almost every aspect of our lives ILLEGAL, there would not be so many Police or Prisons.

    Most of the things that are considered against the LAW, are not JUST CAUSES, But Moral Judgments of a Warped mind hell bent on making you live by his standards. In Other Words, they can’t stand to see someone do something they themselves would not do, or in some cases, they would not want you to enjoy something they enjoy doing.

  • Tommy

    Well said.

  • Louis Merrigan, III

    On so many levels this is just WRONG, the over zelos cops that have too much power to start with do not need a wepon that gives them the power to literaly COOK who ever they chose to dislike.

  • Jason H

    The police do not need anymore torture compliance toys. The donut eaters already carry Portable Electroshock Torture devices. You have the right to peacefully assemble right in front of my giant microwave.

  • Cory

    So,who will be the first person with an unforseen skin disorder to be permanently scarred or die from this.If some one with Mirsa gets hit by one of these they should sue because mirsa is a form of bacteria and therefore needs heat to replicate.Though the amount of heat may not be dangerous to a healthy person the police should be held accountable for any damage they cause .This should be true for current technologies also. In my opinion we should destroy most of our current or unnecessary laws and police practices and re simplify the justice system.This will never happen because most people by the way they live and the things they pay for or expect have directly or indirectly contributed to the eroding of our freedom.There were adds in my home town last year asking the elderly to call the police if they felt threatened or scared or to report “suspicious” activity.This is just one example of how our current system uses the public to spy on each other weather for the so called common good,for qoutas, Jesus,race,or ideology there will always exist thugs and informants who will jump to the opportunity to bash heads and enforce someone elses standard.

  • Acajudi

    I would love to have a small version, that I can carry. I do not want to kill anyone, but I heard tasers and spray does not work on some people. I would love to microwave you (bad people), and then pour acid in your eyes, so you will never be able to attack another person, especially the elderly.

  • Mye

    What if you had piercings? Metal+microwave= HOLY S**T OW

    [Moderator’s note: edited the cuss word.]

  • Britanny

    ouch, dayuum… i have a bellybuton piercing. haha i gotta be a gud girl now ;D

  • http://www.paypal.com/ Emmett Jansen

    I usually enjoy your articles but unfortunately this time you might have been too sick when writing because your writing it seems rushed.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar