As part of the U.S. Navy's investigation into futuristic nonlethal weaponry, the Sierra Nevada Corporation is building a microwave energy pulse gun that can produce a painful screaming sound inside a person's head from a long distance away. The inescapable sound, which is inaudible to untargeted bystanders, can be set to irritate, nauseate or even incapacitate people and animals that lie within range. Future applications may include crowd control, military use and even incapacitate people and animals that lie within range.
Future applications may include crowd control, military use and even shopping mall security, provided it proves safe from permanent side effects.
The science behind it also has the potential to give hearing to certain deaf people, or even projecting voices into peoples' heads.
The Sierra Nevada corporation has signed a contract with the U.S. Navy to follow up on successful recent testing of a non-lethal crowd control weapon that uses microwaves to project high-intensity sounds in the heads of targets, according to New Scientist magazine.
The MEDUSA (Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio) system makes use of the well-established Microwave Auditory Effect, in which microwave stimulation causes parts of the ear around the cochlea to expand thermally, which is interpreted as sound by the brain. The effect is a sound that appears to originate in the target's head, and can't be heard by anyone not directly in the beam's path.
This is not to be confused with Raytheon's Active Denial System, another crowd control weapon in development which uses a similar directed energy beam to cause unbearable but non-damaging heat pain in the top few layers of a target's skin.
Because MEDUSA's sound doesn't vibrate the eardrum itself, and thus the eardrum is not exposed to the damage potential that loud acoustic noise produces, traditional noise level limits don't have to apply with the MEDUSA system. So it's possible to dial in any level of sonic deterrent from mildly annoying up to physically and mentally incapacitating levels that the target has no way of blocking out of their head.
The MEDUSA system has the ability to be aimed at specific targets, multiple targets or even cover large areas with a broad beam, which will make it an effective security deterrent for the perimeters of protected areas. The same technology, on a smaller scale, could be used as an invisible sonic scarecrow to keep certain areas free from birds, as birds appear to respond to very low levels of microwave audio.
There are certain side effects - in 1961 testing of the first Microwave Auditory Effect system, Allen H. Frey noted dizziness, headaches and pins and needles in his subjects - and little is known about what further effects might occur when power levels are turned up to an incapacitating level. The potential for serious neural damage can't be ignored when you're effectively microwaving the inside of somebody's head - and if it does turn out to be lethal, the research may continue down that path and the technology may end up being used as a microwave death ray.