How flickering light could replace rubber bullets

By David Hambling CAN you stop someone in their tracks using nothing but a flashing light? The US army and the Department of Homeland Security seem to think so. Both are backing the development of a new kind of weapon which amounts to little more than a powerful strobe light. Wielded like a conventional gun, this weapon is designed to trigger “flicker illness” – a condition akin to severe motion sickness – which leaves the target dazed, nauseous or completely immobilised. Its developers suggest it could be just the thing for disabling armed criminals or dispersing a rioting mob. If all goes to plan, police and border guards could soon be using the weapon in earnest. It’s a controversial prospect. Supposedly non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets can unintentionally kill or injure and police have been accused of using these kinds of weapon indiscriminately. Will it be the same story with the flicker gun? The uncertainty is all the greater as no one can agree on the physiology of flicker illness or even whether it exists at all, let alone how effective these weapons will be and what their potential dangers are. According to Bob Lieberman, president of Intelligent Optical Systems of Torrance, California, which is developing a device it calls the Incapacitator, flickering lights are highly effective against almost everyone. Yet evidence dating back to the 1950s suggests that fewer than 1 person in 3 will be vulnerable. “I would be completely floored if they can do all the things claimed,” says Richard Servatius,
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