The US Navy is funding research into a "Star Trek phaser set on 'stun'".
At least to begin with, the kit is intended for use by Marines in ordinary urban combat rather than starship crewmen beamed down onto strange new worlds (fans of the classic series may be interested to note that the USS Enterprise happens to be preparing for an "upcoming surge deployment", however.)
The new technology has been given an acronym, EPIC, for Electromagnetic Personnel Interdiction Control. The idea is that intense radio-frequency emissions – capable of passing through walls – would be used to temporarily disrupt the balance and coordination functions of targets' inner ears, knocking them down relatively harmlessly.
The Navy notes that "second order effects would be extreme motion sickness," suggesting that in fact the order given by future Captain Kirks may be "set phasers on 'puke'".
The intention of the programme is to avoid unnecessary harm to the target, but unconscious vomiting would seem to present something of a choking hazard. Still, EPIC-based regurge blasters would seem less brutal than the microwave-oven cannons already tested, which are designed to disperse crowds by lightly frying their outer skin layers.
Texas-based wireless systems firm Invocon was awarded a $99,609 development contract in 2004. The company now claims that "the first known demonstration of a vestibular response to an electromagnetic stimulus has been performed", and wants more money "for research into the effects of the stimulus and potential delivery mechanisms".
The best commentary so far was provided by "Dan Lardee" on Wired's blogs, who simply said: "I think I got hit by one of those beams last night." ®