A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: UPDATED - FDA wants to allow only red laser pointers, calling all other colors "defective"

On October 25 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed to designate all laser pointers that are not red as “defective.” This designation would prohibit U.S. sales of green, blue and other non-red pointers and would make it easier for FDA to control and seize imports of such lasers.


spctrm3  FDA laser pointer proposal 0680w

FDA’s primary concern is green lasers’ interference with the vision of vehicle operators including pilots. Green lasers are involved in over 90% of incidents where pilots reported to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that they saw or were illuminated by laser light during a flight. (The charts below were added in January 2017 after the 2016 FAA final numbers came out.)

FAA 2016 reported laser colors pie chart - 0600w



FAA 2016 reported laser colors pie chart nanometers - 0600w


FDA is also worried about blue lasers which can have greater visibility to night-adapted eyes than red lasers of equivalent power.

Thus FDA is applying the “defective” label — giving them added authority over potentially injurious products — because of what they consider to be a well-known, established public safety hazard to operators of vehicles, aircraft and watercraft.

What FDA is trying to accomplish


FDA has two main goals:

     1) “Turn back the clock” to the 1990s and early 2000s when almost all laser pointers were red. According to the agency, red light has the least interference with pilot vision, compared to equivalent-power green beams which can appear up to 28 times brighter. During this period there were dozens or low hundreds of reported laser/aviation incidents per year, compared with 7,703 incidents in 2015 and 7,442 incidents in 2016.

     2) Make it much easier for customs and law enforcement to identify illegal laser pointers simply by their color. Red and orange-red laser pointers would be permitted; all others would be prohibited for general sales.

In addition, FDA sought to address requests from legislators including Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). After high-profile incidents, lawmakers have written to FDA, asking for a ban on green pointers due to their vision-blocking abilities being a risk to pilots and passengers.

Who would be affected


FDA’s proposed color-based prohibition would only affect the manufacture, importation and sales of laser pointer products introduced into commerce. Although pointers fall under the FDA’s “surveying, leveling and alignment” (SLA) control, only pointers as defined by FDA would be restricted to red. Standard SLA equipment would not be affected — they could use any color beam.

Individuals such as hobbyists who manufacture their own laser products for their personal use would be free from FDA laser product regulations. This is because such individuals would not be considered manufacturers by FDA.

Since federal law cannot control individual use or misuse, states and localities could impose their own regulations. (A few states and localities already have their own restrictions on use and/or possession; these are not currently based on the color of the laser.) One benefit of FDA’s proposal is that any new state and local laws could “piggyback” on FDA’s color-based restrictions. That would make it easier for local law enforcement to use color to easily identify whether a person possessed a prohibited or permitted laser.

FDA’s proposal and rationale was stated in draft amendments presented October 25 to an FDA advisory panel known as “TEPRSSC”.

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UK: UPDATED - Medical report on commercial pilot injured by blue laser at 1300 feet

The journal Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance in January 2016 published a paper entitled “Blue Laser Induced Retinal Injury in a Commercial Pilot at 1300 ft”. The case report is as follows:

“An airline pilot presented to our department complaining of a blind spot in the upper left area of his visual field in the right eye (right supero-nasal scotoma) following exposure to a laser beam while performing a landing maneuver of a commercial aircraft. At around 1300 ft (396 m), a blue laser beam from the ground directly entered his right eye, with immediate flash blindness and pain. Spectral domain ocular coherence tomography highlighted a localized area of photoreceptor disruption corresponding to a well demarcated area of hypofluorescence on fundus autofluorescence, representing a focal outer retinal laser injury. Fundus examination a fortnight later revealed a clinically identifiable lesion in the pilot’s right eye commensurate with a retinal-laser burn.”

The paper said the pilot’s symptoms “fully resolved 2 wk later” and that there was no “deficit in visual function.”
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US: UPDATED - "Star Shower" home laser projector raises aviation concerns

A low-cost home laser projector, heavily advertised and widely available in stores, is raising concerns about pilot safety — especially because many have been purchased for outdoor Christmas decorating.

Between November 18 and December 6 2015, there have been at least three incidents, involving six aircraft, where pilots were illuminated with light from “Star Shower” laser projectors. In all cases, the illumination appeared to be inadvertent. The devices were being used for holiday decorating, and stray beams went into airspace. (E.g., a person was not knowingly aiming the Star Shower at an aircraft, or the flight path of an aircraft.)

The Star Shower emits “thousands” of laser beams from two sources, one green and one red. A homeowner can simply aim the Star Shower at her house or foliage, and instantly cover it with green, or green plus red, laser dots.

Star Shower laser projector head
The projector head. It screws into a stake that is placed in the ground for outdoor use.

Star Shower laser projector on a home
A home densely covered with laser “stars” from multiple Star Shower projectors. Both photos from the
Star Shower website.


According to a comprehensive story in Inquisitr, Star Shower is so popular that it is sold out in many locations. TravelPulse calls it a “laser cannon.”

The Federal Aviation Administration on December 8 2015 tweeted “Decorating for the holidays? A stray laser could blind a pilot.” They then provided a link to general information about laser/aviation safety. An FAA spokesperson told CBS Philly, ““I don’t think anybody who buys these devices even think they have enough power to hit an aircraft in the sky…. If the box is aimed a little high, some of the lasers will not hit the roof of the house, they’ll keep going into space.”

While there is no warning on the outer packaging, the Star Shower instruction sheet says: “NOTICE: Lasers should not be projected at or within the flight path of an aircraft within 10 nautical miles [11.5 miles] of an airport. If your intended surface is within 10 nautical miles of an airport, lower the angle of the Star Shower so that no lasers point into the sky.”

In a December 9 2015 statement to NBC Los Angeles, the manufacturer added: “Star Shower Laser Lights operate by taking a single laser beam and diffracting it into thousands of individual laser beams. Each beam emitted by Star Shower is much lower in power than a typical laser pointer. Each individual laser beam is 10 times less than the maximum permissible exposure (MPE) allowed by the FAA normal flight zone (NFZ) criteria.”

In an urban or suburban environment, it is likely that most homes are within 10 NM of some type of airport. It may not be a major metropolitan airport; it could be a small general aviation facility. In a December 3 2015 incident, a Boeing 737 at 13,000 feet and 22 miles east of Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, reported seeing lights from what was believed to be a “laser holiday light display.”

From the FAA, Inquisitr, NBC Los Angeles

Analysis and commentary by LaserPointerSafety.com


ADVICE FOR OUTDOOR USE

After purchasing and testing a Star Shower, here is our summary advice for consumers. Details then follow.


The Star Shower is essentially eye-safe, and does not cause direct interference (glare) with pilots’ vision after about 411 feet. However, a single beamlet can be a distraction to pilots at least 3/4 of a mile away, and possibly further away due to the large number of laser dots aimed into the sky causing a flashing effect.

For this reason, a Star Shower needs to be aimed so that beams don’t go into airspace. You do not want an officer knocking on your door because a pilot saw and reported your home laser projector. While it is unlikely you would be arrested for an unknowing aircraft illumination, federal penalties for laser pointer misuse range up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Putting the projector closer to a house will keep more of the beams on the structure. Similarly, don’t aim it up into a tree unless the tree is very dense, such as an evergreen.

It should also be noted that there are reports such as this and this of Star Showers being stolen from yards. If you put your projector on a roof or up in a tree, aiming downwards, this both helps aviation (no beams going up into the air) and makes it harder to steal the projector. Finally, if you are in a heavy air traffic area, you might want to consider restricting it to indoor use only.

IS A STAR SHOWER LEGAL?

Under U.S. federal law, the Star Shower is legal to own and operate. As a Class IIIa (3R) laser, there are no federal restrictions on its use. The federal law prohibiting laser pointer misuse may not apply, for two reasons. 1) It prohibits knowingly aiming at an aircraft or its flight path, and 2) the law applies to “laser pointers…designed to be used by the operator as a pointer or highlighter….” This definition would not seem to apply to a device that is not a pointer, and is not used “…to indicate, mark, or identify a specific position, place, item, or object.”

A few states or localities may have restrictions on lasers that would affect Star Shower. Since it is not a laser pointer, and is not used for pointing, restrictions that cover laser pointers may not apply (depending on the exact definition). Some selected state and local laws are here.

Common sense says that a person should not stare into the beams, and that they should not be aimed to harass others. Similarly, the beams should not be aimed down a road or up into the sky, where they could interfere with drivers or pilots.

PURCHASING AND PACKAGING

In early December 2015, we purchased a Star Shower for $40 from a CVS drugstore. The box lists a sales website at BulbHead.com, and the distributor as Telebrands. It also says “Made in China.”

Both the box and the device have the proper FDA-mandated laser safety labeling. The device is FDA Class IIIa, meaning less than 5 milliwatts output. There are two apertures, one for 532 nm green laser beams and one for 650 nm red beams. A diffraction grating in front of each laser breaks the single beam into dozens or “thousands” of less-powerful beamlets. In a foggy or smoky environment, it is possible to see the beamlets in the air, but they are too weak to be seen in clear air.

Although the Star Shower has been popular for the Christmas 2015 season, the packaging does not emphasize this. Instead it says the Star Shower is “great for” indoor, landscaping, holiday, winter and summer uses. The advantages are: “No ladders, no hanging, no dead bulbs, no mess — just plug it in.”

TESTING

We took it to laser expert Greg Makhov of Lighting Systems Design Inc. for testing. Keep in mind that he tested just this one sample unit; we assume it is representative of the other Star Showers that have been sold.

Makhov used two different types of power meters, both which could measure in the microwatt and milliwatt region. He found that the maximum power of a single beam was 0.4 milliwatts. The chart below shows details.

Star Shower laser test results 450w


ESSENTIALLY NO EYE INJURY HAZARD

The brightest single beam, at 0.4 mW, is below the 1.0 mW Class II limit. Class II laser pointers are generally considered to be safe for accidental exposure. Eye injury from a Star Shower would be almost impossible unless a person at close range deliberately overcame his aversion to bright light and stared for many seconds into one of the beamlets, keeping it at the same spot in his visual field.

While the chart shows the Nominal Ocular Hazard Distance to be as far as 19 feet, keep in mind this is a “nominal” hazard. This does NOT mean that beams will cause injury at this distance. There is a kind of safety factor built in to the NOHD. A quick approximation is that at about 1/3 the NOHD (about 6 feet in this case), there is a 50-50 chance of a laser kept steady on the eye causing the smallest medically detectable lesion on the retina, under laboratory conditions.

GLARE UP TO 411 FEET, DISTRACTION TO 3/4 MILE

The chart also shows the visual interference hazard distances. For example, a pilot could experience veiling glare (she can’t see past the light) up to 411 feet away from the Star Shower projector. The light does not interfere with vision, but is a mental distraction, up to 4,105 feet away — a little over three quarters of a mile.

The above eye and visual interference calculations are for a single beamlet, for two reasons. First, at aviation distances, only one beamlet would enter the eye at a time. They are not so close together that two separate beamlets of the same color would be within one pupil diameter. The second reason is that even a person is so close to the Star Shower that two separate beamlets enter his pupil, each one will be focused onto a different area of the retina. This means that the beams don’t overlap — they are heating different areas. This is why we are primarily concerned — both for eye safety and for aviation interference — with the hazard of a single beamlet.

Now, when a helicopter flies through the dozens or “thousands” of laser beams, this can be more distracting than a single beam. It is no wonder that a pilot might report the laser display, and have it re-aimed or shut down.

Although an FAA spokesperson said a Star Shower was reported by a pilot who was at 15,000 feet, at this distance any single beamlet would be far below the FAA’s distraction limit. This means any beamlet would be no brighter than surrounding city or airport lights. It could be that the large number of beamlets caused flashes as the aircraft flew through them, and that this flashing was itself a distraction. Either way, no competent pilot at 15,000 feet should have any visual interference from a Star Shower. The only problem could be mental distraction, if the pilot paid more attention to the light than to flying the aircraft.

DISASSEMBLY AND HACKING (UPDATED DECEMBER 2016)

In early December 2016, Julius R. wrote to us wondering about the safety implications of opening the Star Shower and removing the star-creating holographic diffraction grating.

Our Star Shower, purchased in December 2015, has four security screws hidden behind rubber caps. The screws are at the bottom of a 2-1/4” deep shaft that is 5/16” in diameter. The screw head shape is a triangle with a raised dot in the center:

StarShower screw head copy

It would require a long screwdriver with a matching tip to reach and undo the screw. A brief search of Google Images to try to find such a screwdriver did not turn up any instances.

Certainly someone might be able to find such a tip, or to grind a shaft to fit. And breaking the Star Shower’s plastic housing could also give access to the inside. So if someone really wanted to get at the interior lasers, it would be possible.

We estimate that each of the lasers on the inside would be in the 10 to 50 milliwatt range. This power can cause an eye injury, although the injury would be relatively minor (assuming an unintentional exposure; deliberate staring into any laser beam should never be done). It is at the low end of Class 3B lasers.

There are similar lasers, and much more powerful ones, readily available online. They would be cost the same or even less, and would be much easier to use. So a laser hobbyist or hacker is unlikely to use a Star Shower as a source for red and green single-beam lasers.

In short, disassembly and misuse of the interior lasers is not a significant safety concern.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

Anyone with further questions can contact us; click the link below in the footer at the bottom of the page.

US: UPDATED - Reporter questions effect of FAA/FBI "blame and shame" campaign

A well-known aviation reporter has taken issue with how the FAA and FBI are trying to reduce the number of laser illuminations on aircraft. On August 28 2014, Christine Negroni published a post on her blog Flying Lessons entitled “Aviation’s Effort Combating Laser Attacks Hashtag #Ineffective #Insane”.

She disagrees with the U.S. government’s primary focus being a “blame and shame” campaign that tries to capture laser perpetrators using helicopters, then prosecutes them and publicizes the resulting multi-year sentences. Negroni calls this a “high-tech, heavy-metal, dollar-intensive approach to the problem … [that] has gone terribly wrong…”

Her contention is that persons who aim at aircraft “don’t watch television news, read the daily newspaper or log on to the FAA laser education website before heading out into the night with their nifty green or blue laser pointers.”

She ends her blog post by calling for creativity to try to market this message to its target audience of teens and young men, using a more sophisticated publicity or social media effort.

In the past few years Negroni has written about what she calls “this disaster in the making” for the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Smithsonian’s Air & Space magazine. Late in 2013, she wrote a more detailed article for the blog Runway Girl Network, exploring the problem — and suggested solutions — in more depth.

From Flying Lessons. Background information disclosure: LaserPointerSafety.com provided some information to Negroni which was used in her articles.

UPDATED September 8 2014 - Negroni’s blog post was reprinted by the Huffington Post.

New Zealand: UPDATED - Laser strikes leveling off, 3 months after nationwide laser restrictions

Three months after New Zealand restricted sales of laser pointers over 1 milliwatts, the controls have stopped the rise of laser/aircraft incidents, and have also resulted in limiting consumer access to over-powered lasers.

Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said “Early data seems to show that the number of laser strikes on aircraft have plateaued at the same level as last year.” From Jan. 1 to mid-May 2014, there have been 37 laser incidents. This compares with 116 recorded incidents in all of 2013.

The legislation, which took effect March 1 2014, did not make possession of lasers over 1 milliwatt illegal, but it did restrict importation and sales.

Goodhew said over 80 retailers had been visited to remove any over-powered lasers from shelves and to remind sellers of the new restrictions. Tests showed that of 22 lasers suspected of being over 1 milliwatt, 17 were in fact over the limit. Online auction sites have been monitored. Import officials seized 10 lasers as well.

Nine applications have been submitted seeking government approval to import, supply or acquire a laser pointer over 1 mW. Five have been approved and one is being considered. (Presumably the other three were rejected.)

From Voxy.co.nz. Other LaserPointerSafety.com coverage of New Zealand statistics and laws is here.

UPDATED June 26 2014: LaserPointerSafety has received some clarifications from Jo Goodhew’s office:
1) The 37 laser strikes were from January 1 2014 to mid-May 2014.
2) A March 5 2014 article in the New Zealand Herald, which stated there were 119 recorded incidents in all of 2013, is incorrect. The correct number is 116 as stated in the main article above.
3) The statistical analysis of the “plateauing” laser incidents in 2014 was done as follows: The 37 strikes from Jan to mid-May 2014 were extrapolated to give an estimated 104 strikes for 2014. This was then compared with the 116 incidents in 2013. Although this indicates that 2014 might be a decrease compared to 2013, “at this stage we are being cautious and describing it as a ‘plateauing’.” [Note: This statistical analysis would be correct if the rate of lasing is approximately equal throughout all months of the year. However, LaserPointerSafety.com has found that the rate varies with seasons; in the U.S. incidents tend to go up during the Northern Hemisphere summer. If New Zealand’s rate also varies significantly with seasons, then the statistical analysis is flawed. It would be better to compare Jan to mid-May 2013 directly with Jan to mid-May 2014.]

Canada: UPDATED - Airbus to test windscreen anti-laser film

Airbus will be testing a film said to reflect laser light, from Halifax-area manufacturer Lamda Guard. The announcement came at a June 4 2014 press conference jointly held by the two companies.

Lamda Guard’s “metaAir” film uses metamaterials, also called nano-composites, to reflect one or more laser colors without interfering with normal visibility. According to the company, the film can protect from beam angles up to +/- 50 degrees away from head-on. This has benefits when protecting cockpits against laser strikes, which can come from any angle.

It can be adhesively applied to glass or clear plastic; applications include eyewear, protective goggles and windscreens. Lamda Guard says that the Airbus tests on windscreens will mark the first time an optical metamaterial nano-composite has been applied on a large-scale surface.

metaAir small
General schematic of metaAir film. Click for larger image.



The metaAir film can be engineered either to absorb or reflect the desired wavelength(s). For aircraft application, the reflection approach is being used in order to block undesired light wavelengths from entering the cockpit. The reflection bandwidth is currently in the 15-20 nanometer range.

For the most common type of green laser pointer -- responsible for 93% of FAA reported incidents in 2013 -- with a wavelength of 532 nm, the film would block light from about 522 to 542 nm. Additional wavelength blocking can be added as well, such as the 445 nm blue used in powerful handheld lasers such as the Wicked Lasers S3 Arctic that has up to 2 watts (2000 milliwatts) output.

Two key advantages of blocking laser light at the windscreen are that pilots do not have to carry or use laser protective eyewear, and there is absolutely no interference with the visibility of aircraft instruments. In preliminary tests, the anti-laser film had a narrow enough bandwidth that it did not interfere with airport lights seen outside a cockpit.

Because of ultraviolet degradation to the adhesive layer that adheres the optical metamaterial to the windscreen, the film would need to be replaced after about 5,000 flight hours. This translates into overnight replacement roughly once every three years. The optical metamaterial itself would not have a flight hour restriction.

In addition to piloted commercial aircraft windscreens, Airbus will also be investigating related applications such as piloted military windscreens, UAV camera protection, and sensor protection for satellites and airborne platforms.

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US: UPDATED - Arizona law adds penalties for aiming at aircraft

A law signed April 30 2014 by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer makes it illegal to aim a laser pointer at an occupied aircraft. A violation is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $2,500.

In addition, if the pilot is unable to safely operate the aircraft, or if anyone onboard has a serious physical injury, the act becomes an assault. Apparently, under Arizona law, an “assault” would add to the seriousness of a Class 1 misdemeanor (possibly increasing the jail term and/or fine), but would not put it into another category such as a felony. (For more details, see this discussion and this page.)

House Bill 2164 was introduced January 13 2014. It amended existing Arizona statute Section 12-1213, which prohibited aiming a laser pointer at a peace officer. HB 2164 added a prohibition on aiming at an occupied aircraft.
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US: UPDATED - Arizona bill to make aiming a laser at aircraft a felony

A bill will be introduced January 13 2014 by Arizona Representative Ethan Orr, making it a felony to point a laser at an aircraft. It would apply to all aircraft, including passenger planes and helicopters.

The Tucson Police Department had about 50 lasing incidents in 2013; the perpetrator was caught in most of the cases. But there was little prosecution.

Orr says the bill is needed because “there’s really no punishment. The county prosecutor, because it's not at a felony status, doesn't go after them. And so literally, you get a ticket and nothing happens. But you're endangering lives."

Orr is working with Tucson police pilot Chris Potter, who says he has been hit by a laser pointer about 100 times in his career. Potter says a laser pointer permanently damaged his right eye around 2011.

According to News 4 Tucson, “the FBI will launch a public awareness campaign about the issue next month.” It was not clear if this was an Arizona-area initiative or nationwide.

From News 4 Tucson

UPDATED - February 4 2014: The Arizona House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of increasing the penalty for persons who point lasers at aircraft. HB 2164 would make it a Class 5 felony, with a presumptive sentence of 18 months in prison, to knowingly or intentionally point a laser at an occupied aircraft. And the penalty would go to 30 months if the act disables the pilot or causes serious physical injury to anyone on board. The legislator who introduced the bill, Ethan Orr, is considering reducing the penalty slightly, to a Class 6 felony, when it goes to the full House. Prosecutors could reduce the charge from a felony to a misdemeanor when appropriate. Orr said this might be the case for youths so that a single mistake would not result in a felony record. From KWST.com. A related article at AZCentral.com includes comments from LaserPointerSafety.com’s Patrick Murphy on the issue.

UPDATE 2 - May 1 2014: The bill was eventually amended to make the act of aiming at an aircraft a Class 1 misdemeanor. The act became an assault if the pilot was unable to safely operate the aircraft or if anyone onboard suffered a serious physical injury. The amended version passed both legislative bodies and was sent to Governor Jan Brewer, who signed it on April 30 2014. From the Arizona State Legislature legislative history of HB2164.

UPDATE 3 - September 23 2014: The Arizona Police Association and other law enforcement groups want to increase the penalty to a felony. They hope to introduce a measure when the legislature re-convenes in January 2015.

Sweden: Detailed study released of worldwide laser pointer eye injuries

The Strål Säkerhets Myndigheten (Swedish Radiation Safety Authority) has released a study investigating eye injuries from laser pointers. The following is from the abstract:

“The purpose of this study was to investigate what dose of laser radiation, in terms of intensity and exposure time, may be associated with eye damages. The study has been limited to unwanted exposures of laser radiation from commercially available laser pointers. Of particular interest has been to search for data that clarify the dose-response relationships for functional disabilities that persist more than 6 months.”

“The study shows that long-term vision loss can occur as a result of involuntary exposure from commercially available (strong) laser pointers at close range. The injury may occur before a normal person is able to respond by closing the eyelid, although there are only a few cases reported. A minor such damage is transient within a few days. It is also likely that such a visible injury to the retina becomes functional, i.e. prevents reading skills. What dosage is required for the disability to become permanent is not clear in the literature. Also, the dynamics of evolvement and repair of tissue damages and disabilities are hardly described at all.”

Author: Stefan Löfgren, Jörgen Thaung and Cesar Lopes
Publisher: Strål Säkerhets Myndigheten (SSM - Swedish Radiation Safety Authority)
Language: English
Publication date: 19 November 2013
No of pages: 50
Price per publication: 100 SEK (incl. VAT)
Download: 2013:30 Laser pointers and Eye injuries - An analysis of reported cases [1385 kb]

A summary by LaserPointerSafety.com of the study’s objectives, major findings, and conclusion is here.

UPDATED January 2016: The SSM released an update, with 47 additional cases worldwide of eye injuries from consumer lasers. A summary by LaserPointerSafety.com is here; the full SSM document is here.

UK: "Blaze" bike light uses laser to caution motorists during night rides

A design student in the U.K. has developed an LED bicycle light that also includes a laser. It projects a green graphic of a bicycle in front of the bicycle, to help warn motorists and pedestrians during low light and night riding.

bicycle laser light


The laser-projected image appears to be formed by a holographic diffraction grating, similar to those used in “caps” on laser pointers to make simple logos such as faces, dollar signs and other graphics:

Pic 2013-09-16 at 3.32.45 PM


Blaze’s inventor, Emily Brooke, put the product on Kickstarter in November 2013 and reached its funding goal within 27 days. The initial cost of a Blaze is £60 (USD $96).

A description at Kickstarter states that when Blaze is off of its bracket on the bicycle, the laser cannot be turned on, as a safety measure. The internal laser will be a “more powerful module than you’d typically find in a laser pointer”. However, because the beam is spread out by the optical element, it will be a Class 2 laser product with human access safety equivalent to a laser pointer that is less than 1 milliwatt.

She also notes that the laser is aimed down onto the road so it will not dazzle drivers.

From CNN

UPDATED -- October 27 2014: Blaze is out of Kickstarter and is a product. The new website is at Blaze.cc. According to the website, as of October 2014 the company has sold 3,000 Blaze laser bike lights. The final cost is $200, shipped anywhere worldwide. The laser is a direct-diode green laser, not a DPSS. It is said to be “retina safe.”

Saudi Arabia: UPDATED - 14 young patients injured by high-powered handheld lasers

Over about two years, fourteen patients were seen at the King Khaled Eye Specialist Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with eye injuries due to handheld blue (450 nm) blue lasers with powers of up to 1200 milliwatts (1.2 watts). Ten of the patients required surgery to improve their eyesight, while the other four improved with observation alone.

According to HealthNewsDigest.com, “All injuries occurred during play and involved teenage boys and young males, between the ages of 11 and 30. Some injuries were accidental, but others involved a playmate intentionally pointing the laser beam at the victim's eye. The distance between the victim's eye and the laser beam ranged from 1.7 feet to 20 feet (a half-meter to 6 meters). Those who suffered retinal holes were injured at the closest distance, around half meter, or 1.7 feet. Generally, injury from greater distance resulted in less serious damage, the authors of the report say.”

The report was presented August 24 2013 during a Toronto meeting of the American Society of Retina Specialists by Fernando Arevalo, M.D. He is professor of ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, in Baltimore Maryland and is also affiliated with the Saudi hospital. Dr. Arevalo hopes that his findings, which were provided to the Minister of Health, will result in changes to how Saudi Arabia regulates handheld lasers.
Click to read more...

US: UPDATED - New Jersey to ban laser pointer sales above 1 mW

A bill to ban the sale of laser pointers over 1 mW has passed the New Jersey General Assembly and Senate, and is awaiting Governor Chris Christie’s signature. The bill, A3169/S418, passed the state Senate on August 19 2013 by a vote of 36-1. It had previously passed the General Assembly on June 24 2013 by a vote of 70-7, with one abstention.

The bill was first submitted in November 2010, in response to ongoing problems in Ocean City, N.J. and other beach resort towns where widespread laser pointer sales in boardwalk shops were leading to harassment incidents and aircraft illuminations.

As passed, the bill states that “No person shall sell or offer to sell a laser pointer that exceeds one milliwatt in output power.” A pointer is further defined as “any device that emits laser light to project a beam that may be used for aiming, targeting or pointing out features.”

The penalty is a civil fine of up to $500 for the first offense, and up to $1000 for each subsequent offense. There are two exemptions: for laser pointers intended to be affixed to a firearm, and for a laser pointer used by or under the supervision of a N.J. licensed healthcare practitioner.

If signed in August 2013 by Gov. Christie, it would take effect December 1 2013.

From CBS New York and New Jersey 101.5. The bill’s legislative history and text is available on the New Jersey Legislature website; use the “Bill Search” feature to search the 2012-2013 legislative session for the keyword “laser”.

UPDATED - October 17 2013: The bill was vetoed on October 17 by Governor Christie. In a statement, he noted that the bill would have gone “well beyond” the federal government’s 5 milliwatt limit for laser pointers. He said there was no criminal use of lasers between 1 and 5 mW in New Jersey. Christie indicated the bill was “arbitrary” and interfered with lawful commerce of pointers typically used in business presentations. The full text of Christie’s veto message is here.

Related LaserPointerSafety.com news stories about Ocean City and New Jersey laser troubles

US: UPDATED - Laser pointer restrictions have made a "huge" positive difference in Myrtle Beach

The first summer after Myrtle Beach, SC, passed an ordinance restricting the sale of laser pointers to minors, and restricting the strength to less than 1 milliwatt, there have been “remarkably fewer complaints than we did last year,” according to a spokesperson for the city. “The ordinance seems to have made a huge difference.”

He said that lasers last year, in 2012, were a “fad”. Visitors to the city purchased them from vendors as an impulse purchase

Horry County, which also passed a similar law, has seen similar results. “So far this year, there has been a large decrease in calls concerning the usage of green lasers and zero citations have been issued,” said Lt. Robert Kegler of the Horry County Police.

In the summer of 2012, there were 70 reports of lasers being aimed at aircraft near Myrtle Beach International Airport. The equivalent number for 2013 is not known.

Both ordinances state that adults improperly using lasers will be charged with assault and battery; the penalty is a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail. They will also be held liable for any damage or personal injury. Minors improperly using lasers will be prosecuted in Family Court, and their parents can be held responsible with a fine of up to $500 and up to 30 days in jail.

From Myrtle Beach Online and CarolinaLive.com

UPDATED September 3 2013: A letter from Coast Guard officials had some additional information: “Notable progress has been made, evident through a recent spring break sting operation that found no businesses selling lasers along the beachfront. There were a of [sic] total 68 laser incidents reported to the FAA in 2012 in the greater Myrtle Beach area. So far in 2013, the Coast Guard has not had any of its aircraft illuminated by lasers in the area. We applaud the efforts made by local leaders and sincerely appreciate the community’s support of the initiative.” The August 30 2013 letter was signed by Capt. Ric Rodriguez, Commander, Coast Guard Sector Charleston and by Commander Gregory Fuller, Commanding Officer, Coast Guard Air Station Savannah. From Myrtle Beach Online

US: Laser/aircraft incidents have increased compared to 2012

There have been about 1,500 laser/aircraft incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration between January 1 and June 12 2013. This compares with about 1,384 incidents during the same time span in 2012, 1,326 in 2011, 908 in 2010, and 546 in 2009.

In 2012 and previous years, FAA was able to release detailed weekly reports tracking the number, type, and other data about laser incidents. But due to budget considerations in 2013, FAA has not yet been able to disseminate any reports. Thus, there is some uncertainty in the 1,500 approximation.

Based on this uncertainty, LaserPointerSafety.com has calculated that there could be between 1% and 16% more laser incidents in 2013 than in 2012. If accurate, any increase would represent a setback from the 2012 totals, which were 3% lower than in 2011. Having a rise in incidents would indicate that the publicity and prosecutions which form the majority of current U.S. anti-laser efforts are not having the desired effect.


The 2013 estimate of 3,774 incidents is based on comparing FAA reports from Jan. 1 to June 12 2013 to the same time period in 2012, and then extrapolating the 8.4% increase over the entire year. However, FAA changed their reporting procedures in 2013 so it is unclear how much of the estimated increase, if any, is an actual increase and how much is due to the new reporting procedures.


For the last comprehensive FAA figures, see our page Latest 2012 laser/aircraft incident statistics.

UPDATE, August 16 2013: New information shows 2,200 incidents from January 1 through August 2 2013. This is an 18% increase over the same period in 2012. Also, it does appear that FAA’s 2013 incident reports are comparable to 2012’s -- they have not yet significantly changed their reporting procedures or criteria. More information is at this LaserPointerSafety.com story.

US: UPDATED - Video of homemade 3 watt handheld laser gains attention

A YouTube video published May 22 2013 shows a homemade 3 watt handheld laser burning various objects. The laser uses a 9mm 450 nanometer diode, and is powered by two 18650 Li-ion batteries. Drake Anthony, known on YouTube and laser forums as “styropyro” notes “This is the most powerful handheld laser that I’ve ever used! …. To be honest, I don’t even like handheld lasers this strong, but I knew my subscribers would like this. This laser is legal to own in the US, and I wore goggles while shooting this video.”

Lasers in the 1 watt range have been widely available since the mid-2010 introduction of the Wicked Laser Spyder III Arctic blue laser. This is the first handheld 3 watt laser that LaserPointerSafety.com has been aware of.
Click to read more...

New Zealand: UPDATED - Gov't to restrict handheld laser pointers

The government of New Zealand will introduce new legislation to restrict higher-power handheld lasers. The law is being drafted as of May 2013 and should take effect by the end of 2013. It will be undertaken under the authority of the Customs and Excise Act of 1996 and the Health Act of 1956.

The new law will not cover low-power lasers below 1 milliwatt which are used for presentations, surveying or gun sights. It will control importation, and will restrict use of higher-power handhelds to “authorized users who have a legitimate purpose such as astronomers, researchers and the NZ Defence Force”, according to an Associate Health Minister.
Click to read more...

US: UPDATED - Maryland bill reintroduced to raise fines on pointer/aircraft misuse

Maryland state delegate Sam Arora and state senator J.B. Jennings in November 2012 re-introduced a bill to raise fines for persons convicted of laser pointer misuse. The fines would rise from $500 at present, to up to $2,500 and up to three years in prison.
Click to read more...

New Zealand: UPDATED - Laser pointer bill introduced by MP

New Zealand National List MP Dr Cam Calder has introduced a bill making it illegal to possess a hand-held laser in a public place without a legitimate reason. The bill will go on the agenda for a first reading, and is likely to be debated in the next three weeks.

The bill does not appear to have any laser power limitation; thus, even possession of a laser less than 1 milliwatts (legal in most countries) would be banned under the proposed legislation.

The key text is as follows:

“13B Possession of hand-held lasers
“(1) Every person is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $2,000 who, in any public place, without reasonable excuse, has any hand-held laser in his or her possession.
“(2) Any constable may without warrant seize and detain any hand- held laser which there is reasonable ground to suppose is in contravention of subsection (1) of this section.
“(3) On convicting any person of an offence against subsection (1) of this section, the Court may order that the hand-held laser be forfeited to the Crown.
“(4) In this section hand-held laser means any hand-held device, designed or adapted to emit a laser beam.”


From MSNNZ News and CamCalder.co.nz. The full text of the bill, including an introductory explanatory section, can be downloaded as a PDF file.

UPDATED September 25 2013: The bill unanimously passed its first reading. LaserPointerSafety.com has an article on this, plus a transcript of the debate.

UK: UPDATED - Selling illegal laser pens could net a 3-month sentence for UK man

A man who sold hundreds of lasers, illegal under British law, was in court facing a possible three-month sentence for “supplying lasers and other goods that flouted safety regulations.”

33-year-old Techyun Hii ran Sky Laser Pointers from his home in Ribbleton, a suburb of Preston, Lancashire. In 2011, Lancashire Trading Standards officials found he had lasers that were up to 150 milliwatts, substantially over the U.K. limit of 1 milliwatts for laser pens sold to the public through an eBay store. Three packages were being sent to Greece, just before the Greek riots. He had been warned twice before about U.K. laws and his obligations.

In April 2012, investigators placed a test purchase which led to Hii’s arrest. He pleaded guilty to five counts of selling illegal goods, and will be sentenced July 4 2012.

From the Lancashire Evening Post

UPDATED November 25 2012: Hii was sentenced to a 180 day jail term, suspended for 18 months and was ordered to carry out 300 hours of unpaid work. The lasers sere destroyed by burning them in a hospital’s furnace. From the Lancashire Evening Post.

UPDATED March 22 2013: The case was the subject of a paper in the Proceedings of the 2013 International Laser Safety Conference, “Laser Product Assessment for Lancashire County Council Trading Standards Service” by John O’Hagan, Michael Higlett and Marina Khazova, pp. 181-188. A summary of the paper is here at LaserPointerSafety.com.

US: Maryland "Laser Safety Act" passes House, goes to Senate

The text in blue, below, is from a press release sent March 26 2012 by Maryland State Delegate Sam. Arora. It has been slightly edited to re-arrange a few sentences.

UPDATE, November 20 2012: The bill did not pass. According to Arora, it “passed the House of Delegates in March [2012] but ultimately failed to reach a vote in the state Senate during the final hours of the regular legislative session, when a budget showdown between the two chambers effectively killed scores of bills that were scheduled for votes.” It was reintroduced in November 2012, as discussed in this story.



AIRCRAFT LASER ATTACK BILL PASSES MARYLAND HOUSE, MOVES TO SENATE

Bill Would Punish Shining Laser Pointers at Pilots in Flight

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A measure aimed at curbing a dangerous trend targeting aircraft passed the Maryland House of Delegates Monday afternoon and now will head to the state Senate for approval.
 
The bill, the
Laser Safety Act (HB 130), sponsored by Maryland State Delegate Sam Arora (D-Montgomery Co.), seeks stiffer penalties for people who shine laser pointers into aircraft cockpits, potentially blinding pilots in flight. The Act would carry a penalty of up to three years in prison and/or a fine of up to $2,500. Current law only permits for a $500 fine for “misuse of a laser pointer”.
Click to read more...

US & UK: UPDATED - Laser incident rate in U.K. more than twice the U.S. rate

Aircraft in the United Kingdom are 2.24 times more likely to be involved in a laser incident, than aircraft in the United States, according to a LaserPointerSafety.com analysis. The figures compare the number of aircraft takeoffs and landings, to the number of reported laser incidents. Specifically:

  • U.S. airports had 9,079,000 flights in 2011, with 3,591 laser incidents reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. This is a rate of one U.S. laser incident for every 2,528 flights. Said another way, this is 0.40 incidents per 1,000 flights.
  • U.K. airports had 2,152,787 flights in 2011, with 1,909 laser incidents reported to the Civil Aviation Authority. This is a rate of one U.K. laser incident for every 1,128 flights. Said another way, this is 0.89 incidents per 1,000 flights.

The ratio of U.K. to U.S. rates is 2.24, meaning that the U.K. had more than twice the number of laser incidents than the U.S., when adjusted for the number of flights. (Important note: These figures do NOT mean that commercial aircraft are targeted at the rates indicated. Many laser incidents involve police helicopters. The analysis is simply meant to compare the two countries’ rates of laser misuse against aircraft of all types.)

It should also be noted that there could be many underlying factors affecting the precise numbers. For example, it is not known if the U.S. counts laser incidents in the same way as the U.K.

However, the figures do indicate that the U.K. rate of laser incidents appears to be significantly higher -- roughly twice the U.S. rate, based on the number of flights.

From an analysis by LaserPointerSafety.com, March 22 2012.

Updated May 27 2012 to correct a math error and make clear that it is the United Kingdom which has a higher rate of laser incidents (e.g., more incidents per 1000 flights). Our thanks to Brian Turner for pointing out this error.

Methodology: We define a “flight” as a takeoff plus a landing. US flight figures are from the Airline Activity “departures” statistic from the Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics. It is assumed that each flight which departs also lands, so the data is accurate for “flights” as we have defined it. UK flight figures are from totaling column G, Total ATMs, from “Table 4, 1 Air Transport Movements 2011” found on the CAA UK Airport Statistics 2011 page. A UK “movement” is one takeoff plus one landing, so this is the same as our “flights” definition.

While the flight statistics compare only airline (US) and air transport (UK) flights, and do not include law enforcement flights, we believe this is a valid “apples to apples” comparison of how many more flights take place in the U.S. than in the U.K. A previous LaserPointerSafety.com analysis showed that law enforcement flights are less than 1% of the total flights from U.S. airports. Inclusion of law enforcement flight numbers would not significantly change the ratio of U.S.-to-U.K. flights.

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US: UPDATED - Myrtle Beach CAP official witholds safety flights after being charged for confiscating laser pointer from 12-year-old (+ 2 updates)

The commander of the Myrtle Beach Civil Air Patrol was arrested October 12 2011 for confiscating a laser pointer being misused by a 12-year-old boy. Stephen Teachout was riding his scooter when he saw the boy pointing a green laser at a passing motorcycle, moped and Teachout’s scooter. Teachout went into the boy’s yard, grabbed his arm, took the pointer, then drove away on his scooter. Teachout was charged with third-degree assault and petty larceny. The boy was also given a juvenile summons for public disorderly conduct.

Stephen Teachout laser
Stephen Teachout

In retaliation, Teachout said the three-pilot Civil Air Patrol would not provide help to Horry County (where Mytle Beach is located) for certain calls including offshore missing persons and forest fires. According to the Sun News, Teachout said “I support Horry County but if they don’t have [the pilots’] backs then no thanks. We don’t need to be here.”

Click to read more...

US: UPDATED - Myrtle Beach proposes severely restricting lasers

The beach resort town of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is set to vote on a proposal to severely restrict lasers. The ordinance would prohibit minors from buying or using lasers. Businesses would be prohibited from selling lasers to minors.

For adults, the proposal would ban use in public such as beaches, parks or streets. It would be illegal to aim lasers at a person, animal or vehicle. Violation would be a misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to a $500 fine and one month in jail.Click to read more...

Russia: UPDATED - Laser "blindings" increase

Russian air transport regulator Rosaviatsiya noted an increase this year in cases of pilots being blinded by laser pens during landing at Russian airports, with 30 such incidents registered as of June 8 2011. Only five cases were registered in 2010.

On June 8, a pilot was blinded by a laser pointer while landing a Boeing passenger plane in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, but managed to land safely. The beam came from the area of a local market.

Earlier in the week a pilot of an Airbus A320 plane was blinded by a laser light during landing at the same airport

From RIA Novosti. In addition, Pravda carried a story with some additional details. See also other LaserPointerSafety.com stories about Russian aviation incidents and laser statistics.

UPDATED - June 24 2011: The German news agency DPA reported that these attacks, and additional ones in June in Rostov-on-Don, are the result of Islamist insurgents in the Caucasus region. See this story for details and sources.

UPDATE 2 - July 5 2011: A spokesman for the Federal Air Transport Agency said there have been more than 50 cases of “laser hooliganism” thus far this year in Russia, according to Bloomberg.

US: UPDATED - Gun-shaped laser pointer for sale

A company is selling a gun-shaped laser pointer on the internet. The “gun” uses two AAA batteries to generate a 50 mW green beam:



The seller says this is “a good tool for pointing to the faraway target or stars and sending out the SOS signal, making your travelling [sic] funny and interesting.” Fortunately, they also note that “Laser is harmful to people, following uses are forbidden: A. Point the laser at people's faces, especially eyes; B. Point at mirrors or highly reflective surface; C. For children play; D. Observe the laser lines with a telescope; E. Disassemble, test or repair laser pens.”

Thanks to Phyllis Monahan of Lighting Systems Design Inc. (LSDI) for bringing this to our attention.

UPDATED - June 7 2011: Gun-shaped laser pointers have been noted in two police reports we have recently seen. One is a confiscation in Virginia Beach after a teen aimed a gun/pointer at a mounted policeman and his horse. The other is a May 7 incident reported by the Buffalo Grove (Illinois) Patch where police briefly detained youths who had been pointing a gun-shaped laser pointer at vehicles in a parking lot. “The officer contacted the parents who came to pick up their sons. The officer made it very clear to the parents and the youths how dangerous a situation the boys placed themselves into.”

UPDATE 2 - September 16 2014: A 13-year-old Indiana boy was suspended for a week from school, for waving a laser pointer around in a school parking lot. Police said the laser pointer “could look like a gun.” It is unknown if the pointer actually was gun-shaped like in the above photo, or if it was a different shape, such as the cylinder of a barrel, that could be mistaken for a gun.

US: UPDATED -Law proposed in Illinois to criminalize laser pointing

An Illinois state representative introduced HB0167, which amends the state criminal code to make “discharging a laser into the cockpit of an aircraft” a Class A misdemeanor. Republican Dave Winters of Shirland is a pilot who wants to give state police jurisdiction over the crime.

HB0167 is similar to HR 386, a bill currently in the U.S. House of Representatives. One difference is that the state bill criminalizes using any “laser” that illuminates a cockpit, while the federal bill only applies to “laser pointers”. Another difference is that HB0167 contains two of the three exceptions in HR 386. While it provides an exemption for R&D and flight tests, and for the Defense and Homeland Security Departments, the Illinois bill does not provide any exemption for lasers used to signal in emergency rescue situations.

The full text of the bill, along with the status and other information, is available from the Illinois General Assembly.

From the
Chicago Tribune (Jan. 26 2011) and St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Feb. 17 2011).

UPDATED - June 15 2011: The bill was passed February 24 by the Illinois House and May 17 by the Senate, and has been sent to the Governor for his signature. From the Illinois General Assembly status page on HB0167.

UPDATE 2 - July 21 2011: The Governor signed the bill. It becomes Public Law 097-0153 and will take effect January 1 2012. From the Chicago Tribune.

US: UPDATED - Injury reported from Casio-sourced 630mW diode

A laser hobbyist reported injuring himself with a 630mW “keychain” laser emitting at 445 nm. He had a brief, accidental exposure when he lost his grip on the laser and it crossed a mirror. It hit directly in his left eye. He reported being flashblinded for 30 seconds and had an afterimage for 10 minutes, with the center “as black as black could be”. The black spot stayed for about 12 hours.

More than two weeks after the accident, he reports “... there are no identifiable irregularities. I am certain there is permanent damage in the spot, but it is so far out in [my] peripheral vision, that it is just not noticeable. So I have officially ceased worrying about it. Lesson learned.”Click to read more...

US: UPDATED - New Jersey law proposed to ban laser pointers above 1 milliwatt

After a spate of aircraft lasings and citizen harassment in Ocean City, a bill has been introduced in the New Jersey state Senate that would ban sales of laser pointers over 1 milliwatt. This is five times less than the current U.S. limit. (U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulations require lasers sold as “pointers” or for pointing purposes to be below 5 milliwatts.)

New Jersey S2430 provides for a $500 penalty for the first offense, and up to $1000 for any subsequent offenses. A laser pointer is defined in the bill as “any device that emits laser light to project a beam that may be used for aiming, targeting, or pointing out features.”

The state Senator representing Ocean City, Jeff Van Drew, introduced the legislation on November 22 2010. It was assigned to the state Senate Commerce Committee.

The bill text is available at e-lobbyist.

UPDATE - June 11 2011: The bill is still pending in the Commerce Committee. Renewed attention has been brought to the legislation as the opening of Ocean City’s 2011 summer season has brought additional incidents against both aircraft and citizens (see links below to related June 2011 news stories).

UPDATE 2 - August 20 2013: The bill passed both the New Jersey Assembly and the Senate, and was sent to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature.

Related LaserPointerSafety.com news stories about Ocean City and New Jersey laser troubles

US: UPDATED - Danger of infrared light from some green laser pointers

Some green laser pointers may be emitting dangerous levels of invisible infrared light, in addition to the visible green light, according to a U.S. government agency. The National Institute of Standards and Technology purchased three low-cost 10 mW pointers and found that “one unit emitted dim green light but delivered infrared levels of nearly 20 mW -- powerful enough to cause retinal damage”. Tests by a second NIST team “found similarly intense infrared emissions in some but not all units.”

The NIST team came up with a simple “home test” so that interested persons can test their own laser pointers. The test requires a digital or cellphone camera, a compact disc used to spread out the wavelengths, a webcam to view infrared light, and an infrared TV remote control.




At top, light from a green laser pointer is diffracted (spread out) by a compact disc and viewed with a digital camera that can see only visible light. At bottom, a webcam with no infrared-blocking filter shows this laser also emits infrared laser light (white dots). For this unit, the invisible infrared light is more powerful than the visible green light. (NIST photo)

The unwanted and potentially hazardous infrared light is due to misaligned or missing filters in laser pointers that use infrared to generate visible green light. Low-cost pointers are at special risk, due to cutting corners in design, materials or manufacture to reduce costs.

The team warns that, whether or not a laser pointer emits dangerous levels of infrared, users should “never point the lasers at the eyes or aim them at surfaces such as windows which can reflect infrared light [as well as visible light] back to the user” or others in the area.

For more information:

  • NIST technical note A Green Laser Pointer Hazard which includes instructions on how to test to see if a green laser pointer has unwanted or excess infrared light emission (PDF format)

UPDATE - March 2011: A laser expert has privately warned LaserPointerSafety.com that the CD technique requires caution. This is because when the laser light is diffracted, the infrared light is no longer co-linear (same path) as the visible light. Therefore, the viewer cannot know exactly where the IR light is going unless they are looking through an IR-sensitive camera or webcam.

Worldwide: Dangerous 1 watt laser on sale for only $200 (+ updates)

A highly hazardous 1 watt handheld laser pointer is now being sold to consumers worldwide, for a price of only USD $200. This is a major increase in power as well as a major decrease in price. (Fall 2010 update: The price was later raised to $299, its current selling price as of Dec. 2010.)

Wicked Lasers advertises the 1 watt Spyder III Pro Arctic as “the most dangerous laser ever created”. This is not far from the truth; it is by far the most dangerous laser affordable by the general public. Previously, such a laser would have cost many thousands of dollars.Click to read more...