It seems that ever since the invention of lasers in the 1960s, we have yearned to turn them into deadly weapons.
The fact they look totally dope as deadly weapons has helped their popularity – as evidenced by Han Solo’s prop laser used in Star Wars fetching around half a million bucks at auction – although popularity doesn’t lead to feasibility.
In a nutshell, while lasers have become part of everyday life, they are yet to become a part of death (well, except when we zap cancerous cells with them).
However, if reports out of China are accurate, we’re a step closer to our long-held desire to see sharks armed with lasers.
The ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle – developed at the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shaanxi province – is said to be non-lethal, however, it can reportedly instantly carbonise human skin and tissue.
According to the South China Morning Post, a scientist who worked on the laser’s development said it would be able to “burn through clothes in a split second… If the fabric is flammable, the whole person will be set on fire”.
What’s more, since the laser beam itself is invisible and produces no sound, it would be virtually impossible to know how or why said person’s clothes have suddenly burst into flames.
Add in the fact the beam has a range of 800 metres and can pass through windows, and the developers of the laser are holding it up as a great means by which to combat terrorists – just set them on fire from afar!
“Nobody will know where the attack came from,” another researcher told the SCMP. “It will look like an accident.”
Built by ZKZM Laser, a single unit is expected to sell at a cost of 100,000 yuan (about AU$20,000), although it will only be sold to the nation’s police and military.
So, is it legit?
Well, since the story was published by the SCMP, a number of outlets have questioned whether the laser is real – because if it was, then, why are they talking about it instead of showing us its capabilities?
Devin Coldewey of TechCrunch was particularly dismissive of the ZKZM-500’s reported capablities, calling the device “bunk” that “sounds incompatible with physics”.
“There’s just no way that a laser powered by a lithium-ion battery that a person could carry would be capable of producing the kind of heat described at point-blank range, let alone at 800 metres,” Coldewey wrote.
“That’s because of attenuation. Lasers, unlike bullets, scatter as they progress, making them weaker and weaker.
“Attenuation is non-trivial at anything beyond, say, a few dozen meters.
“By the time you get out to 800, the air and water the beam has travelled through enough to reduce it a fraction of its original power.”
In short, maybe don’t hold your breath on the prospect of getting a sweet, skin-burning laser for Christmas any time soon.