Feeds

Lightning-gun tech 'approaching weaponisation'

Settings: Gadget bricker, skeleton-strobe, smoking boots

The next step in data security

The Pentagon continues to pour funding into Arizona-based laser plasma lightning blaster-gun firm Applied Energetics, formerly known as Ionatron. The US Army says that the firm's lightning guns are "approaching the level of maturity needed to begin weaponization".

The military assessment came as the US Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (ARDEC) inked a new $3.1m deal with Applied last week.

"Now that the technology is approaching the level of maturity needed to begin weaponization we will be more closely coordinated with Applied Energetics through this contract to fulfil Army mission needs," said Ben Lagasca, chief of "Advanced Energy Armaments" at ARDEC.

The technology in question is a fairly old idea: that of using a laser beam to create a plasma "tunnel" or "channel" through the atmosphere which would be more conductive than ordinary air. This would allow a powerful electric spark discharge - an artificial lightning bolt - to be directed onto a target with some precision.

Arizona firm Ionatron began work on this plan in 2002. Originally the company thought that it would soon develop lightning blasters so portable and powerful that they would supersede conventional small arms. Any desired electric intensity from lethal force down to circuitry-disabling-but-harmless-to-people could be selected on one's battery-powered electric blaster pistol. There would also be a wireless-Taser stun option in between.

Initially, however, the firm attempted to deploy its zappers as a bomb-disposal tool on robotic vehicles for use in Iraq. This ended in ignominious failure during 2006, and Ionatron stock fell off a cliff. The firm renamed itself, but nonetheless faced huge shareholder anger and earlier this month was forced to cough up $6.5m to settle a class-action lawsuit.

Still, normally the firm's continued military research contracts would offer some confidence that at least some kind of electric bomb-zapper is in fact on the horizon - if not a proper sci-fi raygun.

But colossal amounts of cash have been targeted by the US forces at finding a technical fix for the insurgent bombs which have been such a deadly scourge overseas. That money has to be spent - perhaps regardless of how promising any given project may genuinely appear to be. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
SCREW YOU, Russia! NASA lobs $6.8bn at Boeing AND SpaceX to run space station taxis
Musk charging nearly half as much as Boeing for crew trips
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Thought that last dinosaur was BIG? This one's bloody ENORMOUS
Weighed several adult elephants, contend boffins
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
City hidden beneath England's Stonehenge had HUMAN ABATTOIR. And a pub
Boozed-up ancients drank beer before tearing corpses apart
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.