Psst! Your fly is unzipped. This is just one potential use of the talking lasers being developed by the Defense Department’s Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWP). 

It’s a laser that can “talk” using a physics phenomenon called the Laser-Induced Plasma formation. It works like this: You fire a powerful laser that creates a ball of plasma. A second, highly targeted laser is fired into the plasma cloud to oscillate the plasma and create sound waves. When done correctly, these laser bursts can mimic human language.

The proof of concept only transmitted messages over a short distance, but the DoD is hopeful their talking lasers will soon be able to carry messages for hundreds of miles. The military says the “weapon” may be available for use in as little as five years. 

The same technique could be used to make this communications tool a non-lethal crowd-control device. The JNLWP is also testing plasma lasers that could irritate human skin and/or generate enough sound to damage hearing and disorient similar to a flashbang grenade. By amping up the power on the second laser — the one that hits the plasma cloud — sound waves as loud at 155 decibels can be created. 

Civilian talking lasers also in the works

Researchers at MIT are developing their own talking laser that has a slightly different mechanism of action. It uses water rather than a plasma cloud to generate sound.

A laser wiggles back and forth causing water molecules in the air near a person’s ear to vibrate and create certain sounds that are imperceptible to those nearby. The MIT laser works even in dry conditions because there is always a small amount of moisture in the atmosphere.

So if you’re walking down the street one day and you hear someone whispering in your ear but nobody is around, have no fear! You haven’t lost your marbles. It’s just a talking laser! 

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