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Is This Chinese Laser Rifle a Hoax?

 Technology has advanced drastically in recent years. And what we are perhaps used to only seeing in films, may become the real deal soon enough. In fact, China has developed a laser rifle that can 'carbonize' human flesh at a range of 800m (2,635ft), yet only weighs 3kg (6.6lb). According to a report published in the South China Morning Post, Chinese researchers say that the ZKZM-500 laser assault rifle is a fully portable 'non-lethal' weapon that can burn hair, skin, and signs and may even penetrate and set fire to fuel tanks.
 
 
Chinese laser rifle

The report states that the ZKZM-500 is a 15mm caliber weapon which is about the size of an AK-47 assault rifle. It is designed as an anti-personnel weapon. A similar device was created in the United States a few years back, but while the American counterpart only gives a sensation of great heat without permanent damage, the ZKZM-500 can burn through clothing and set an entire person on fire, even if it is aimed through a closed window. 

The laser is powered by lithium-ion batteries that allow it to discharge 1,000 two-second shots on a single charge. The company also plans to mass produce the rifles at a cost of 100,000 yuan - $15,000 per unit. Naturally, there are concerns that the weapons might fall into the wrong hands, so it will be tightly regulated with the first ones being sold to the anti-terrorism squads of the Chinese Armed Police. 

Nevertheless, while it all sounds very impressive, it should be taken with a large grain of salt. Over half of a century of developing laser weapons has left a very large stack of literature on the subject and many of the claims of the ZKZM-500 do seem unlikely. Lasers are normally very bulky and solid-state lasers have only been able to become as compact as they are by tightly coiling long fiber-optic cables. But even so, they are so large, they need to be mounted on a truck.

 
Chinese laser rifle

Furthermore, they need large, complicated optics to focus the beam and a reference laser to assess and cancel out the effects of atmospheric distortion. Laser weapons also need large cooling units to carry off the heat they generate and to avoid damaging their systems. Power is its biggest drawback. Laser weapons are notoriously inefficient and require full-blown electrical generators to work. For a laser like the ZKZM-500 to run off of lithium-ion batteries, the power units would have to weigh as much as a motor car. And even if they could be made compact, they would need an energy density so large, it would be like carrying around a large bottle of nitroglycerin. 

Developers say that the ZKZM-500 will be used for anti-terrorism and crowd control, where some targeted fire lighting of signs and clothes would be used to cause protestors to lose 'the rhythms of their speech and powers of persuasion.'

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Related Topics: science, technology, China, Sci-Fi, laser rifle
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