Scientists create ‘gun’ that disrupts speech

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, March 1, 2012 10:20 EDT
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A man is yelled at over a megaphone. Photo: Shutterstock, all rights reserved.
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Japanese scientists with the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology claimed this week that they have developed a novel new weapon by combining two specialized technologies in such a way that they are now capable of rendering someone unable to speak.

While it’s not technically a weapon, their “portable speech-jamming gun” could certainly be used as one, especially against political leaders or others who speak to large audiences for a living.

Combining a directional microphone and a directional speaker, the “Speechjammer” records and quickly plays back whatever words someone is uttering, making it very difficult for the speaker to focus on what words come next. The effect is called “artificial stuttering.”

Because the directional amplifier can only be heard by the person it is pointing at, the gun’s effect is like hearing a recording of one’s own voice echoing inside one’s skull. Researchers said their device can be used from approximately 34 meters away, but there are other directional amplification technologies that go further.

The original use for directional audio projection, however, came from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which created the first “sonic projector” as a means of inserting messages into an enemy’s brain or hiding secret communications.

A similar technology has since been in use by advertisers who utilize what’s called an “audio spotlight” to direct sound at individuals, instead of a scatter-shot speaker that’s audible to everyone.

The speakers in the Speechjammer are more akin to the audio spotlight’s amplification system than DARPA’s sonic jammer, according to a research paper published by the scientists (PDF). Scientists proposed the device as a way to control meetings, ensuring people take turns to speak.

(H/T: Technology Review)

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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