Light Blade laser slashes threats from the sky

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A laser developed to cut thick plastic for greenhouses has been modified to destroy airborne drones and other less sophisticated aerial threats.

An engineer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel and colleagues from industry have formed OptiDefense to optimise and commercialise the system, which has been dubbed Light Blade.

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Current drones need to maintain a communication link to their handler or to GPS, and electronic jamming systems can exploit that weakness to enact a ‘soft kill’ on the threat. Future autonomous drones will navigate via onboard sensors and cameras, eschewing any sort of exploitable communication link. In order to neutralise them before they reach their target, a ‘hard kill’ option is needed to physically target and shoot down the drone.

With support from Israel's Border Police Commander Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai, Prof. Amiel Ishaaya of BGU's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and two colleagues developed the Light Blade system that can be used in urban environments.

"In order to operate most high-powered laser defence systems, the airspace needs to be cleared for many kilometres…so the laser does not accidentally blind anyone. Our system operates on a lower frequency which makes it safe for urban environments. Airports, for example, could station our systems around to provide complete coverage without endangering any pilots or passengers," Prof. Ishaaya said in a statement.

Israel has experienced aerial attacks near the Gaza border from balloons carrying incendiary devices, with the most recent attacks occurring in February 2020.

When the attacks began in 2018 OptiDefense co-founder Dr Udi Ben-Ami contacted Prof. Ishaaya to find a solution.

"He said, 'we just worked on a laser system for cutting thick plastic for greenhouses. Kites and balloons are made of similar materials,'" said Prof. Ishaaya.

A working prototype of Light Blade was then developed in a year and in February 2020, it was paired with Elbit's SupervisIR threat detection system.

"We succeeded in downing everything that came within our field of fire," said Prof. Ishaaya.