It’s just a phase I am going through
Star Trek has (unfairly) had its harsh critics over the last 44 years. It introduced us to a number of fictional technologies, but like all good ideas they made it in to the real, commercial world. They are of course such things as the communicator (became the mobile phone), doors which opened automatically when you approached them (I remember being taken to the Co-op in Enfield to see one of the first installations in the UK) and the Transporter (in the last two years physicists have made significant strides in this area). The one obvious omission is the Phaser. Even this, it appears, has become a reality.
The fact that the Phaser was always portrayed as being able to switch between “set phasers to stun” and “switch phasers to kill” has been of real interest to the military. It has the flexibility to disable an enemy, kill him or even to knock out a vehicle. In 2002 the American Marines were experimenting with a “Pulsed Energy Projectile” (PEP). It fired a short, intense, laser pulse which vaporised the surface of the target, creating plasma which absorbs the rest of the laser energy — and detonated with a flash, bang and electromagnetic pulse. Just like the PEP it could be used on low power to stun, or high power to kill. The PEP never made it to the battlefield, it was shelved after spending $14m on development.
Later incarnations have included the “Phased Hyper-Acceleration for Shock, EMP, and Radiation” work out the acronym. It emits a low pulse to stun an assailant, a higher lethal dose or an elecrtomagnetic pulse (EMP) to fry the electronics in weapons or vehicles. However, the challenge is how to create the equivalent of a small ball of lightening, then compress and transmit it. The latest incarnation is called the Multi-mode Directed Energy Armament System (MDEAS) research project. It uses a very short laser pulse, less than one millionth of a millionth of a second, which ionises the air forming a channel through which a powerful electric current can be conducted to stun or kill the enemy. The channel can also conduct microwave energy to disable weapons or vehicles.
I am still waiting for the Replicator on my desk, to make the most fantastic cup of coffee every time I ask it to, and the Holodeck, and the Starship to house it all in.