In early 2018, professor Udi Ben-Ami at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev was working on a laser system for cutting thick plastic for greenhouses.

But when terrorists from the Gaza Strip started sending explosive devices over the border carried by simple balloons and kites also made of plastic, Ben-Ami had another idea for how to use the technology.

He called up his friend and colleague professor Amiel Ishaaya, an expert on lasers at BGU’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. He suggested the pair collaborate on a laser-based defense system.

The result is a new company called OptiDefense, which the professors, along with colleagues from industry, formed to develop and commercialize a system that takes Star Wars out of the realm of science fiction.

Systems to neutralize attack drones are already available—they often stop drones by means of a “soft kill,” interrupting a drone’s GPS connection to its base. But future drones won’t necessarily need such a communication link. As a result, a “hard kill” option is needed to physically target and shoot down drones.

The incendiary kites and balloons are not nearly as sophisticated as attack drones, but are similarly autonomous. Moreover, Ishaaya realized that no one else was working on a technology to combat these simple but deadly devices.

Operating on a shoestring budget of just a few million shekels, the OptiDefense team scaled the laser up to take out the balloons at a distance.

The technology’s development received support—as well as funding, materials and testing grounds—from the Israel Border Police. When paired with the SupervisIR threat detection system manufactured by Israeli defense company Elbit Systems, “we succeeded in downing everything that came within our field of fire,” said Ishaaya.

The biggest advantage to OptiDefense’s laser technology is that it can work safely in urban environments.

“Most high-powered defense systems [require that] the airspace be cleared for many kilometers around so the laser does not accidentally blind anyone,” explained Ishaaya. “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.”

Other potential applications include defending public events such as concerts or speeches. The system’s approximate range is several kilometers.

OptiDefense’s laser tech has been dubbed “Light Blade” (Lahav Or in Hebrew). The company is currently raising additional funds to further roll out the technology.

This article was first published by Israel21c.

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