US Navy scientists have developed a powerful non-lethal weapon designed to “annoy” people into not speaking.
The unusual sonic weapon is designed to disrupt speech by forcing people to listen to the sound of their own voice.
Similar to hearing an echo on a Zoom call, it effectively records someone’s speech at long range and echoes it back to them with a slight delay.
Navy boffs call this weapon an acoustic hailing and disruption (AHAD) system.
While it is unclear how the technology will be used in action, it could be used for crowd control in riots or to target public speakers.
Engineers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center explain that in “normal speech, a speaker hears their own words with a slight delay, and the body is accustomed to this feedback.
“By introducing another audio feedback source with a sufficiently long delay, the speaker’s concentration is disrupted and it becomes difficult to continue speaking.”
Crucially, only the speaker will hear the feedback thanks to a highly targeted audio system, so people around them will have no idea why speech has become so difficult for them.
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Similar tools – such as the Japanese SpeechJammer – target an individual’s speech at close range, so it is unclear how the Navy’s kit will function at long distances.
The US Navy already uses many sonic weapons, such as playing extremely loud noises to disperse crowds.
However, other more secretive sound weapons have been used by different militaries in devastating ways.
In Guantanamo Bay, rock music such as that of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers is allegedly used to torture prisoners.
Meanwhile, so-called “Havana syndrome” saw US officials at the Cuban embassy in 2016 fall mysteriously ill from invisible sonic attacks.
More recently, a health warning was issued in Guangzhou, China, telling people to be wary of loud or high-pitched noises after a US official suffered brain damage at a consulate.