SciTech

How Things Work: LED Incapacitators

An example of the LED Incapacitator is shown on the left, with the LED lights shown. Behind the LED lights are microprocessors and other electrical assembly that cause the lights to flash in a specified way. On the right depicts a hypothetical scenario of its use. (credit: Courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security) An example of the LED Incapacitator is shown on the left, with the LED lights shown. Behind the LED lights are microprocessors and other electrical assembly that cause the lights to flash in a specified way. On the right depicts a hypothetical scenario of its use. (credit: Courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security)

New LED Incapacitators (LEDIs) that have been developed almost seem like a precursor to lightsabers in that both use light as a weapon. However, there is one very important difference between the two. LEDIs have been designed especially to be non-lethal weapons for subduing people, while any self-respecting Star Wars fan knows about the amount of harm a lightsaber can do. LEDIs have been developed in California by Intelligent Optical Systems, and rhe technology involved has impressed the U.S. Department of Homeland Security so much that the company received a million-dollar grant from the department.

LEDIs are designed to confuse people enough by pulsing LED lights in different frequencies, intensities, and patterns to stop them from running away from law enforcement officers, according to www.howthingswork.com. This does not cause any physical harm, but will cause disorientation and, in some cases, nausea. The weapon is designed for use by border patrol and national guard personnel, according to www.guardian.co.uk.

The LEDIs have several advantages over other weapons designed to fulfill the same task. For example, Tasers and other stun guns can also disorient people, but they require the shooter to be close to the person being subdued. Also, these machines can trigger heart attacks in people with weak hearts, and they are capable of causing great amounts of pain. Lasers can also be shone into people’s eyes to stop them from moving, but this can cause permanent tissue damage to the eyes, and it also requires the ability to aim well from a distance. LEDIs do not cause lasting harm, and only need to be aimed near the subject’s location.

LEDIs work by taking advantage of limitations the brain has in processing information. When light is shone onto a person’s retina, the part of the eye that detects light, information is sent to the brain. However, LEDIs pulse light at a speed faster than the brain can process. This overflow of information can incapacitate a person for minutes after the light has stopped flashing.

Another deterrent that uses light is called “strobing,” where a strobe light is used to confuse people. LEDIs function in a manner closest to this alternative, but LED lights are usually much more durable and power efficient than the lights used as strobe lights. In LEDIs, the basic mode of operation is that these LED lights just blink on and off in a variety of colors very rapidly. This ends up confusing the target without injuring him or her. For all of these reasons, the finished version of the LEDI is being eagerly anticipated by many.

A second phase of development of the LEDI will be tested by volunteers at Penn State University, according to www.gizmag.com. One goal of Intelligent Optical Systems is to reduce the size of the current LEDI model to make it more portable.

For the electronics enthusiast, there are online tutorials available that provide simple step-by-step instructions on how to create a homemade LEDI. The homemade version isn’t as powerful or as sophisticated as the weapon that might eventually be used by law enforcement officers. All this circuit really needs is a few LED lights and a small microprocessor to control when the lights come on and off, and the finished payoff is a bunch of blinking lights that might induce a slight headache if stared at for long enough. One such guide can be found at www.ladyada.net/make/bedazzler/make.html.

The LEDI are only one of many new ideas on the market that are trying to make weapons less permanently damaging and more humane. Nonlethal innovations to weapons like LEDIs are favorable, as they will allow law enforcement officers to be able to subdue criminals without causing physical injury.