When people go to the movie theaters, they seem delighted when lasers are able to blow things up all over expansive galaxies. Then they go home and wonder why this doesn't seem to be all that possible in real life.
The answer is that lasers are not so efficient when taken into this mundane world. They need to be vast, suck up huge amounts of power, and enjoy perfect atmospheric conditions in order to effect due damage on, say, architecture from the Communist era.
However, some very clever people at a company called TeraDiode believe they might have taken a mightily positive step closer to an explosive laser nirvana.
I am grateful to Xconomy for alerting me to the news that TeraDiode, a company that took root in MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, has created lasers which are driven electrically, rather than chemically. Crucially, they start at a size not much bigger than a breadbox and can offer some genuinely deep impact.
The TeraDiode Web site describes the more exciting aspects of the laser's potential as "directed energy weapons." It also explains some of the more basic numbers that lie behind its discoveries: "Using revolutionary TeraDrive technology, we coupled 1000 watts into a 200 um, 0.18 NA fiber, creating a beam many times brighter than any other direct-diode laser. And we're not done."
No, they're not done. They're not done because, as CEO David Sossen told Xconomy that, in his believable imagination (say, in five or more years time), the company will create lasers "compact enough to be deployable on a tank or ship." These lasers would, hopefully, be able to blow up old-world items like artillery shells and rockets.
In the shorter term, Sossen says this new design might have to make do with some of the more mundane tasks like cutting and welding. However, he seems convinced that, when it comes to the bulkiness and inefficiency of anything the military might have tried up until now "we've broken through that barrier."
They've broken through using something called "wavelength beam combining," which allows for individual beams to be brought together to form one, more powerful, emission.
I know that many will not be satisfied until they are able to zap away enormous irritations--like Hummers--with one push of a button. However, science doesn't always move that quickly and, sometimes, perfect destruction begins with some hope and a little expectation.