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New Tool Designed to Blind Armed Shooters, Buy Time for Victims

Inspired by mass shootings at schools, the "Lightguard" temporarily impairs the vision of shooters and other assailants, giving people time to negate threats and seek safety until law enforcement intervenes.

University of Miami Professor shown with his Lightguard invetion
University of Miami professor Brian Arwari, shown in his lab, says, "We want people everywhere to be safe."
Jose A. Iglesias/TNS
(TNS) — Like many Americans, University of Miami clinical research professor Brian Arwari has been troubled by the increased frequency of mass shootings, particularly when children get gunned down at schools. The 49-year-old Italian American father felt compelled to use his skills as a scientist to try to figure out something that would improve students’ safety on campuses.

With an undisclosed amount of funding from Key Biscayne resident and former Advent International managing partner Ernest Bacharach, Arwari has led an eight-person team that developed and secured a patent for Lightguard. It’s a small LED-based lighting system the size of an index card that can be used to temporarily impair the vision of shooters and other assailants, giving people time to negate threats and seek safety until law enforcement intervenes.

Arwari discussed with a Miami Herald reporter what led to the development of Lightguard and how it works. The interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

Question: How did your research in cognitive neuroscience lead to development of Lightguard?

Answer: I direct a lab here at the University of Miami and we look at how people react to stimuli. One piece of equipment we have and what I mostly use in my lab is an EEG machine. You put on a cap and it looks at your brainwaves and we can see what’s going on in your brain and how it’s functioning based on what type of stimuli we give you.

My lab looks at what’s going on in your brain when you hear a really loud sound, or see a bright flash, or when you hear soft music, or when you’re reading something very boring, or if you’re exercising.

Q: What events led to start of Lightguard’s development in 2019?

A: It was seeing these horrific shootings happen at Bataclan nightclub in Paris, the Sandy Hook school shooting and then the Pulse club shooting in Orlando in 2016.

The debate always centers around guns and whether we want more guns or less guns. I wanted to find out if any person in my field have anything to say about it and can contribute anything toward a solution.

I believe we could add layers of protection for potential victims. I wanted to know what a layer of protection could look like that we could add from the neuroscience stuff that I know. In my field, we know that there’s a continuum on which you’re on in terms of how relaxed or tense you are.

People tend to process stuff visually, so if you’re going to impair somebody, you want to impair them visually. About 80% of what we process is visual. So if you take away somebody’s eyesight, you’re taking away a lot. So we zeroed in on how could we impair the vision of a shooter.

Q: How would this device work in a school setting?

A: The Lightguard device would be mounted in a classroom and can be activated, by using a panic button or via an app. When you press the button it flashes and it’s very bright. In a classroom, for example, you would have it aimed at the doorway or any other entry. Or you would have it mounted in a hallway and aimed at the top of the stairwell for people coming up the stairwell. So if you’re going down the stairwell and you’re leaving the building, you’re fine. But if you’re coming up the stairwell, it’s going to hit you in the face.

The advantage of this is there’s a bright light that does two things. One, it visually impairs a person. You see flashing and can’t see straight. So if someone has a gun and can’t see straight, you reclaim your advantage over that person. I can now maybe wrestle it out of his or her hands, or flee to safety. Also, there may be a startled response when a person with a gun gets flashed, that person then runs away.

If it gets to the point where the cops get there and they have to exchange fire with the person, It’s good if you know that person is partially blinded by this device.

Q: How would this technology support law enforcement’s response to a crisis?

A: What this does is it buys law enforcement time or it buys victims time. It gives you an added layer of defense that you didn’t previously have. Also, a third thing it does is that it connects with the local emergency network to alert law enforcement and others about your emergency.

For example, if you’re in a school and somebody comes in and shoots, you have to get under your desk and call 911. If you have this Lightguard device and you press it, that’s going to alert everybody including law enforcement.

Q: What customers are you gearing Lightguard toward?

A: We tested it at a University of Miami testing installation, where they showed it to law enforcement and security people. During our testing, law enforcement liked it because they said it was something that could help as a line of defense before they get there.

We want to use this device at institutions, not in private homes. Private homes may come one day. The reason we say that is because if you put this in your home, it protects just you and your family.

If we put this in a school, it protects 30 people in a classroom. We are focused on installing it at: LGBTQ clubs; synagogues; religious schools; airport security checkpoints; courthouses; government buildings; bars; military bases; government embassy buildings; movie theaters; prisons; convenience stores; hospitals and fast-food restaurants. And we think it can be used on airplanes and cruise ships.

We want to protect as many people as possible.

Q: What could this technology do for marginalized communities such as people of color?

A: I’ve been pulled over by the cops and I’ve been asked if I’m here illegally. I’m an American citizen. When we talk to minorities about this device, they actually like Lightguard. Because if you’re suspected of committing a crime, even if it’s unfairly, you would rather get flashed than shot.

Q: Where do you plan to sell the device? Has there been inquiries?

A: We started selling a limited number of devices in June and are currently raising capital to expand marketing, sales and distribution. Depending on how many lights are in each unit, the price will start between $100 and $200. We are focused selling Lightguards throughout the United States. We actually have gotten a lot of international calls, from as far as the Middle East. We will sell it anywhere and we hope to have customers use it everywhere. We want people everywhere to be safe. There’s an extra incentive and passion for Florida because we live here. We want our kids to be safe at schools here.

©2023 Miami Herald. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.