Fiber Lasers Mean Ray Guns Are Coming

A clever configuration of industrial lasers is set to finally make laser weapons practical

14 min read
Illustration: MCKIBILLO
Illustration: MCKIBILLO

The U.S. Navy’s most advanced laser weapon looks like a pricey amateur telescope. As it emerges from a chassis high on the USS Ponce to look out onto the daytime sky above the Persian Gulf, its operator sits in a darkened room elsewhere on the ship holding what looks like a game controller. The screen before him is showing a small boat floating near the Ponce, carrying a dark object. The infrared beam hitting the object is invisible, but you can see one spot grow brighter until the object suddenly explodes, sending metal shards spiraling into the water.

This weapon, cobbled together from a half-dozen industrial cutting and welding lasers to produce a total power of only 30 kilowatts, was hardly the megawatt monster military scientists dreamed of decades ago to shoot down ICBMs. But it’s a major milestone, advocates say, toward a future in which directed-energy weapons are deployed in real military engagements. Such a future, they add, will come from changes in mission and in technology. The mission shift has been going on for years, from global defense against nuclear-armed “rogue states” to local defense against insurgents. The technology shift has been more abrupt, toward the hot new solid-state technology of optical-fiber lasers. These are the basis of a fast-growing US $2 billion industry that has reengineered the raw materials of global telecommunications to cut and weld metals, and it is now being scaled to even higher power with devastating effect.

Keep reading... Show less

Stay ahead of the latest trends in technology. Become an IEEE member.

This article is for IEEE members only. Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

Startup Makes It Easier to Detect Fires With IoT and Flir Cameras

The system employs predictive analytics and AI

3 min read
A tablet computer shows blueprints overlaid with thermal imagery.

MoviTHERM’s iEFD system’s online dashboard shows a diagram of the interconnected sensors, instruments, Flir cameras, and other devices that are monitoring a facility.

MoviTHERM

Fires at recycling sorting facilities, ignited by combustible materials in the waste stream, can cause millions of dollars in damage, injuring workers and first responders and contaminating the air.

Detecting the blazes early is key to preventing them from getting out of control.

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Mayo Clinic Researchers Pump Up Wearable ECG Functions With AI

Single-lead ECG can detect ventricular dysfunction

3 min read
A closeup image of a person about to touch an apple watch screen showing a health app with their finger.
Istockphoto

Mayo Clinic researchers have developed an artificial-intelligence algorithm that can detect weak heart-pump functioning from a single-lead electrocardiogram (ECG) on the Apple Watch. Early results indicate that the ECG is as accurate as a medically ordered treadmill stress test but could be performed anywhere, the researchers say.

The single-lead AI algorithm was adapted from an existing algorithm that works by analyzing ventricular pumping data from a 12-lead ECG already in clinical use under an Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Keep Reading ↓ Show less

Take the Lead on Satellite Design Using Digital Engineering

Learn how to accelerate your satellite design process and reduce risk and costs with model-based engineering methods

1 min read
Keysight
Keysight

Win the race to design and deploy satellite technologies and systems. Learn how new digital engineering techniques can accelerate development and reduce your risk and costs. Download this free whitepaper now!

Our white paper covers:

Keep Reading ↓ Show less