Forget the light saber; the flashy sword is but a part of the fictional Star Wars universe. These five crazy, futuristic, and veritably frightening weapons may sound like they come from epic sci-fi flicks, but they're no mere figments of the imagination — they actually exist.
1. Speech-suppressing gun
If there were ever a weapon made to fit Big Brother's world to a T, this is it. Let's say someone doesn't want to hear any more of your opinions. All they have to do is point this weapon at you and pull the trigger. This gun was designed by Japanese researchers to silence people by messing with their heads, but how exactly does it work?
Within a distance of 100 feet, a directional mic perched on top of the gun picks up whatever it is the target is saying. The boxy, directional speaker that makes up the bulk of the weapon then plays the sound back with a 0.2-second delay, effectively inducing delayed auditory feedback, a phenomenon caused by the echo of your own voice that interrupts your thoughts and renders you speechless.
While it's true that the weapon could be used to ensure silence in places like the library, it could also be used to silence protesters, important political figures, and other people who actually have important things to say. Talk about an Orwellian nightmare come true!
2. Vomit ray
This weapon could also prevent you from speaking your mind, but it's because you're going to be too busy to talk while you're throwing up your lunch. Back in 2007, the U.S. Navy signed a contract with a company called Invocon to develop a weapon that uses radio frequency (RF) to affect a person's sense of hearing and equilibrium. Anyone hit by these waves (which, by the way, can pass through walls) is expected to throw up and experience severe motion sickness — effects that were proven when the company demonstrated the weapon on a very unlucky individual.
In the same year, the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology department awarded $800,000 to a company called Intelligent Optical Systems (IOS) to develop the LED Incapacitator. It's a fancy flashlight that emits rapid pulse of different-colored lights to induce headache and dizziness, with vomiting as one of the possible aftereffects.
Want to make your own puke-inducing weapon? A couple of hardware hackers built one for $250, called it Bedazzler, and even posted instructions you can follow online. Part of Bedazzler's official page reads: "Yes this project does indeed cause: Nausea, dizziness, headache, flashblindness, eye pain and (occasional?) vomiting! So don't use it on your friends or pets." Although if you're building the Bedazzler because you're probably an evil overlord in training, we doubt you're going to take that advice.
3. Pain ray
More formally known as the Active Denial System (ADS), the pain ray is a weapon developed by the U.S. military that can — wait for it — cause excruciating pain by emitting high-powered waves similar to those from a microwave oven. Developed by the Pentagon, the system is composed of huge, vehicle-mounted plates. It was deployed to Afghanistan in June 2010 and pulled back just a month later without having been used.
It's unclear whether the military's plans to develop a rifle version of the system ever panned out. However, a smaller version of the pain ray called Silent Guardian was developed by defense technology company Raytheon and is currently available for use by law enforcement agencies.
While the ADS reportedly never saw action in the battlefield, it went through 10,000 trial exposures involving real people. The test subjects reported feeling like they were on fire a few seconds after being targeted, but the agonizing pain vanished as soon as they stepped out of the beam's way. The weapon was only designed to inflict pain and not actually burn anything, but around 0.1% of the test subjects reported blisters caused by second-degree burns. Double ouch!
4. Mind-control gun
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin recently admitted that the country's government created a gun that can put people in a zombie-like state... at least for a short while. Or so we hope. Russia's mind-control gun attacks a target's central nervous system with electromagnetic radiation and is designed to be used for crowd control. While the government's keeping mum about the details, previous studies about the effects of electromagnetic radiation on the brain reveal that one of its possible effects is implanting thoughts and suggestions into a target's mind.
Good thing these scary zombie guns are confined to Russia and have not yet appeared in the United States, right? Well, in 2008, a U.S. company called Sierra Nevada Corporation announced that it was going to start producing the Medusa ray gun — a weapon that uses rapid microwave pulses that your brain perceives as extremely annoying sounds.
Soon after the company introduced Medusa, independent scientists came out to warn people that the weapon can't produce sounds annoying enough to disperse crowds unless it shoots strong microwave pulses that can literally fry your brain. Yikes. At least the Russian government was able to successfully test its zombie gun on real people (though to be fair, we're not exactly sure if any brains got fried in the process).
5. Self-guided bullet
The U.S. Sandia National Laboratories developed a new kind of bullet that could turn anyone into a sharpshooter in a heartbeat. The four-inch projectile has small fins on its tails similar to a dart that can steer it straight toward the target. As long as you shine a laser beam to what you want to hit, the sensor on the bullet's nose can follow it, even in the midst of strong winds and even if the target is up to a mile away. The self-guided bullet was designed for DARPA's Exacto program and will be used by the military and law enforcement agencies.
Waiting for visible laser guns? Keep waiting
Many sci-fi fans are salivating for the day when handheld laser pistols become commonplace. Movies like Star Wars showcase powerful visible laser weapons in all shapes and sizes — from massive, ship-mounted cannons to tiny blasters that can fit in your pocket. Unfortunately, the chances of these types of firearms becoming a reality rests somewhere between slim and none.
There are several reasons why sci-fi laser weapons will never be possible. For starters, all current weaponized laser technology uses wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye. They can cause damage to a target, but you'd never be able to actually see the damaging rays the weapons generate. Second, since lasers travel at the speed of light, even if a visible laser weapon were conceptualized, you'd never actually be able to see the distinct glowing bars that are so common in futuristic firefights. On top of all that, lasers capable of doing damage to a target need massive power supplies, making the idea of a personal, portable laser weapon absolutely ludicrous.
Fascinating yet horrifying
Most of the weapons in this list may not be created to inflict fatal wounds, but they sure have terrifying implications. We know we don't want to experience awful pain, be turned into a zombie, or have our right to free speech taken away. Still, these creations represent fascinating advancements in science and technology. Let's just hope they don't fall into the hands of someone who has dreams of global domination.
[Image credits: U.S. Department of Defense]
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