Electric Shock Weapons Could Go Wireless
DAVID HAMBLING / New Scientist 21may03
A weapon that delivers a debilitating electric shock to its victim without the need for wires is being developed in Germany.
New Scientist has seen video stills of a prototype of the "Plasma-Taser" in action during firing-range tests. The pictures were shown at the European Symposium on Non-Lethal Weapons in Karlsruhe, Germany, two weeks ago.
In the first image, a spray of dark gas is seen approaching a human-sized target. In the next, taken a fraction of a second later, there is a lightning-like flash of electrical discharge intended to incapacitate the targeted person.
The Plasma-Taser, developed by defence company Rheinmetall W&M in Ratingen, is similar to the Taser weapon used by US police forces. In an ordinary Taser, a pair of darts are fired at a target from a distance of about seven metres, and a high-voltage electrical pulse is delivered through lightweight metal cables to the darts. The 50,000-volt electric shock stuns the intruder by temporarily shutting down their nervous system.
"Pain and spasms"
The Plasma-Taser will not need any wires because it fires an aerosol spray towards the target, which creates a conductive channel for a shock current, claims Rheinmetall. The company refused to comment on exactly how the weapon works, but it says the aerosol material is non-toxic.
Like Taser manufacturers, Rheinmetall describes the effects of its weapon as "pain and spasms". The advantage? A Taser is a single-shot weapon of limited range: the Plasma-Taser can fire repeated shots over greater range.
"It certainly looks shocking and intimidating," says Brian Rappert of the University of Nottingham, UK. "But there is a big difference between a lab demonstration and a working weapon. The history of non-lethals is littered with novel, widely praised but ill-conceived ideas."
Steve Wright of the Manchester-based Omega Foundation, which monitors non-lethal weapon technology, is concerned about the potential misuse of electric shock weapons. "Such new technologies enable systematic human rights abuses to be more automated, so that one operator can induce pain and paralysis on a mass scale," he says.
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The "Plasma-Taser" fires an aerosol spray towards its target creating a conductive path for an electric current.
A conventional Taser, used by some UK police forces, fires a pair of darts connected to lightweight cables which deliver a 50,000 volt electric shock.
But it can only be fired once and has a range limited to about seven metres.
The Plasma-Taser developed by Rheinmetall W&M in Ratingen, Germany, can fire repeated shots over longer distances.
Like a normal Taser, the weapon causes "pain and spasms". Victims are stunned by having their nervous systems temporarily shut down.
Expert Brian Rappert, of the University of Nottingham, said: "It certainly looks shocking and intimidating. But there is a big difference between a lab demonstration and a working weapon. The history of non-lethal weapons is littered with novel, widely praised but ill-conceived ideas."
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