The Air Force Research Lab in New Mexico has developed a "nonlethal" Personnel Halting and Stimulation Response Rifle (Phasr), which temporarily blinds the person in its sights.
The U.S. Dept of Defense thinks the weapon might be used to dazzle suspects who drive through roadblocks. But the DoD has yet to reveal details of how the laser works.
Earlier versions of similar weapons were banned under a 1995 UN convention called the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons. One key point: The protocol does not prohibit lasers that temporarily blind an enemy.
"In the past, lasers of this type often permanently blinded people," says Tobias Feakin, an expert at Bradford University's Non-Lethal Weapons Research Project in the U.K. The new system, he says, may eliminate the problem by using less-powerful beams.
But even low-power laser systems can damage eyes at close quarters or over extended periods. The Phasr, however, automatically senses the distance to its target. The weapon also employs a two-wavelength laser to counter goggles that filter out certain wavelengths of laser light.