Piezer - Homeland Security Orders Verne's 1875 'Leyden Ball'

Midé Technology Corporation of Medford, Massachusetts is working on a non-lethal device called the Piezer (pronounced "pee-ay’-zer"). Conventional 'stun-gun' devices like the Taser rely on batteries linked to transformers and a capacitor. The range of the device is limited to the length of the wires that carry the electrical charge - typically no more than 20 feet. The company has been awarded a Phase I SBIR from the Department of Homeland Security for development of the device, described as "an untethered electro-muscular disruption non-lethal stun weapon based on piezoelectric technology for civil law enforcement officers and the military."

The Piezer contains piezoelectric crystals, which produce a voltage when they are compressed. The Piezer is designed to be fired from a standard 12-gauge shotgun. Midé claims the Piezer could be effective at 40 to 50 meters, longer than the 'bean bag' rounds also dispensed with shotguns.

In his 1875 science fiction classic 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Jules Verne writes about an undersea hunting expedition using a very unique form of bullet - a Leyden ball:

...the balls sent by this gun are not ordinary balls, but little cases of glass. These glass cases are covered with a case of steel, and weighted with a pellet of lead; they are real Leyden bottles, into which the electricity is forced to a very high tension. With the slightest shock they are discharged, and the animal, however strong it may be, falls dead.
(Read more about Verne's leyden ball)

In Verne's novel, the leyden balls are fired with special rifles that are powered by compressed air; it is only necessary that they touch the target. It is even possible to use them to bag game that is flying mere feet above the waves:

I was witness to one of the finest gun shots which ever made the nerves of a hunter thrill. A large bird of great breadth of wing, clearly visible, approached, hovering over us. Captain Nemo's companion shouldered his gun and fired, when it was only a few yards above the waves. The creature fell stunned, and the force of its fall brought it within the reach of dexterous hunter's grasp. It was an albatross of the finest kind.
(Read more about Verne's leyden ball)

Science fiction fans may also recall the electric rifle, a somewhat more fanciful idea from the 1911 classic Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle.

See also information about two similar devices, the Lynntech projectile and Inertial Capacitive Incapacitor, both under current development, as well as the reference article at New Scientist. There are other technologies under study: take a look at the VLe variable projectile gun, as well as the Active Denial System.

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