A British police force is planning to trial a laser gun that would temporarily blind large groups of people.
The £25,000 (US$40,000) device, the SMU 100, emits a three-meter square “wall” of light. It’s not designed to cause damage to eyesight, but is painful to look at. Manufacturers Photonic Security Systems liken it to the effects of looking at the sun and having no choice to but turn away.
The unnamed force plans to test out the device as a potential solution for controlling large crowds following this summer’s rioting in several English cities. Whereas CS gas and tasers work only over short ranges, the laser is said to work up to a range of 500 meters — though of course, that increases the risk of innocent bystanders being caught up in the process.
The device, which is still in development, is designed to be shoulder mounted and relatively portable, thus making it suitable for situations where a water cannon vehicle — another idea floated for riot control — would be impractical, such as confined spaces like small side streets.
The manufacturers already uses the technology in a commercially available system that is mounted on boats and designed to deter piracy, for example off the coast of Somalia. The BBC reports that similar systems from other manufacturers have been used by military convoys in Afghanistan.
Once the trial is complete, the government’s Centre for Applied Science and technology will study the results, along with those from other ideas such as chemical irritant projectiles. It will need to be convinced there are no long-term health risks from the system before advising a government minister to approve the device for use by the police.