Louder than bombs: LRAD 'sonic cannon' debuts in U.S. at G20 protests

Pittsburgh police on Thursday used an audio cannon manufactured by American Technology Corporation (ATCO), a San Diego-based company, to disperse protesters outside the G-20 Summit -- the first time its LRAD series device has been used on civilians in the U.S.

An ATC sales representative confirms to DailyFinance that Pittsburgh police used ATC's Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD). "Yes, we sold one LRAD unit to a government agency -- I don't know which one -- which was used in Pittsburgh," the representative said. American Technology Corp.'s stock was trading up over 15 percent in heavy activity late Friday.
ATC calls itself "a leading innovator of commercial, government, and military directed acoustics product offers" that offers "sound solutions for the commercial, government, and military markets."

Pittsburgh officials said yesterday they believe this to be the first use of a LRAD "sonic cannon" against civilians in U.S. history.

"The police fired a sound cannon that emitted shrill beeps, causing demonstrators to cover their ears and back up," The New York Timesreported. For years, similar "non-lethal" products designed by ATC have been used at sea by cruise ships to ward off pirates.

"LRAD creates increased stand off and safety zones, supports resolution of uncertain situations, and potentially prevents the use of deadly force," ATC spokesperson Robert Putnam told DailyFinance. "We believe this is highly preferable to the real instances that happen almost every day around the world where officials use guns and other lethal and non-lethal weapons to disperse protesters."

Still, Putnam acknowledged the potential for physical harm. "If you stand right next to it for several minutes, you could have hearing damage," he said. "But it's your choice." He added that heavy-duty ear-phones can render the weapon less effective.

The company's LRAD series has a variety of featured benefits, including "Longer stand-off distances for increased asset protection, larger coverage with fewer personnel, and determination of intent of groups or individuals from extended distances." The product line can also transmit "bird distress calls to repel targeted birds from crops, buildings, and airports."

"The military version is a 45-pound, dish-shaped device that can direct a high-pitched, piercing tone with a tight beam. Neither the LRAD's operators or others in the immediate area are affected," USA Today reported in 2005.

ATC was founded in 1980 by an inventor named Elwood G. Norris, after he served in the U.S. Air Force as a Nuclear Weapons Specialist, according to the company. Norris currently sits on the board and controls about 13 percent of the company's 50 million outstanding shares.

ATC was recapitalized in 1992, according to its website, which explains that it began engineering sound weaponry in 1996. "In response to the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, we developed and introduced our revolutionary Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) product and continue to expand our sound reproduction technologies and products to meet the needs of our customers and target markets."

Given yesterday's civilian debut, with no reported casualties, commercial and civilian uses for LRAD also seem possible. Putnam said the company hopes law enforcement agencies everywhere come to realize what an effective crowd control weapon the LRAD can be.

And ATC, while small, is finally finding a rosy financial picture. The company reported record fiscal third quarter revenues of $4.4 million, for the quarter ended June 30: a 60 percent revenue increase over the prior year. In fact, Putnam said the company had only been profitable for the last two quarters.

In a press release accompanying the earnings announcement from early August, ATC president and CEO Tom Brown remarked: "We generated our second consecutive profitable quarter and achieved year-over-year revenue growth through strong LRAD sales to U.S. and foreign naval forces, maritime shipping companies and for bird-deterrence applications."

"With pirate attacks up 110% in the first six months of this calendar year with 240 incidents reported, compared to 114 incidents for the same period last year, we continue to experience increasing domestic and international maritime security interest and orders for our proprietary LRAD systems," he said.

Now that the law enforcement authorites have begun using the LRAD in U.S. cities, a whole new marketplace for the company may have opened up. Don't be surprised to see a LRAD at an event with large crowds in your town sometime in the future.

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