A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

UK: New law proposes prison for aiming laser pens at aircraft, trains, cars, other vehicles

The U.K. Department for Transport on February 5 2017 said it would propose a new law making it illegal to shine laser light towards an aircraft, train, or road vehicle.

It is more stringent than the current law which 1) only applies to aiming at aircraft, 2) requires prosecutors to prove that the perpetrator endangered the aircraft and 3) has a fine of up to £2,500 (USD $3,112).

The new law will 1) apply to a wider variety of transport modes including automobiles, 2) require prosecutors only to prove that the laser was directed towards the transport vehicle and 3) will also add the prospect of prison time to the potential punishment. The exact new fines and prison terms were not stated in the DfT announcement.
Click to read more...

US: Self-driving cars can be disrupted using a laser pointer

A cybersecurity expert said that he can disrupt self-driving cars that use LIDAR sensors, with “just $43 and a laser pointer.”

LIDAR sensors on self-driving cars work by sending laser light — usually non-visible infrared beams — in order to detect objects’ shapes and distances. According to Jonathan Petit, there is a problem: “Anybody can go online and get access to this, buy it really quickly, and just assemble it, and there you go, you have a device that can spoof lidar.”

The LIDAR can be made to falsely perceive objects that do not exist, or to ignore objects that are actually present.

A simple attack would cause the self-driving car to run into another car or an object. A more sophisticated attack could cause the car to choose a different path. Petit says “[this] means that then the risk could be ‘I’m sending you to small street to stop you and rob you or steal the car.’”

The Business Insider article is unclear but it appears the $43 is for equipment in addition to the cost of the laser pointer. Also, although the article did not say, it may be that the laser pointer needs to emit infrared light instead of, or in addition to, visible light.

Petit is a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California, Berkeley.

From an article in Business Insider, posted December 15 2016. The detailed article also discusses many other non-laser techniques of hacking self-driving cars.

US: No laser beam headlights for U.S. cars -- not without rule changes

U.S. automobile regulations prohibit the use of advanced laser headlights currently being used or tested by Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Volvo and Toyota. Only high and low beams are allowed, unlike new adaptive laser headlights which detect oncoming cars and dim part of the light output to avoid dazzling drivers.

Toyota has filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seeking to allow the advanced headlights.

A story in Ars Technica goes into more detail about how the laser headlights work, and how companies are advocating for “sensible policy solutions where the tech and car worlds intersect.”

From a June 5 2014 Ars Technica article by Jonathan M. Gitlin

Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: Although automobile headlights are not laser pointers, they do use diodes similar or identical to those in high-powered blue lasers such as the multi-watt Wicked Lasers S3 Arctic handheld. In headlights, laser diodes are used to energize a phosphor coating so that incoherent bright white light is emitted. The small diodes allow the headlight assembly to be lower-profile, giving more flexibility in body design and aerodynamics. They also allow beam shaping to avoiding dazzling other drivers, and aiming the beam in the direction of travel while turning. Our coverage of laser headlights (other stories) can be found here.

Worldwide: Audi introduces laser headlights; follows BMW's lead

German automaker Audi has introduced laser headlights on a Sport Quattro concept first shown publicly at the January 2014 CES show in Las Vegas. The laser headlights will also be used on Audi’s LeMans race car later in 2014.

Pic 2014-01-08 at 10.51.52 AM
Audi Sport Quattro concept car


BMW also has introduced laser headlights, on its electric supercar i8.

The headlights use laser diodes to energize a phosphor that creates white light. According to Audi, the beams have a range of 1640 feet, twice the distance of LED high beams.

Technically, the white-light beam would not have the same coherence as a laser, making it safer for human vision (at least, at normal driving distances -- any very bright light viewed up close could be an eye hazard). An Audi spokesperson said “Our main aim was to not dazzle any drivers, laser technology is much more accurate.”

Because the laser diodes are so tiny -- only a few micrometers in diameter -- the headlight assembly itself can be made smaller as well.

Pic 2014-01-08 at 10.58.16 AM
Closeup of the Audi laser headlights


The laser power appears to be about 10 watts, based on an Australian report that “the system is 10,000 times more powerful than a laser pointer”. Such pointers in Australia are limited to 1 milliwatt or 1/1000 watt. It is unclear if this refers to the total power of both headlights, or of a single headlight.

From Car and Driver, and News.com.au. MotorTrend has an excellent article from 2011 describing in detail how the BMW laser headlights work. It contains an account where journalists looked directly into the light without adverse effect.

Germany: BMW shows safety features of its new laser headlights

BMW used laser-generated headlights on its i8 concept model, unveiled in September 2011. They later invited the press for a detailed description of how the headlights worked, and how safety in ensured.

Each of the four headlights uses three blue lasers. The lasers are directed by mirrors onto a lens containing yellow phosphorus. This re-emits white light onto a larger mirror that reflects it out the headlight glass onto the road.

BMW laser headlights
Two of the four laser headlights are shown here. The resulting white light beam is emitted toward the upper left of the photo.


The system is 1000 times brighter than LED headlights, uses half the power, lasts just as long (10,000 hours) and allows more flexible designs. BMW noted that light emitted from the headlights is not laser light, and is safe to stare into. In case of an accident, the headlights are powered down so no laser light could escape.

[Note from LaserPointerSafety.com: It is likely that the laser diodes in the headlight are the same type used in Casio’s Green Slim projectors and the Wicked Laser Spyder III Arctic handheld laser. These are relatively inexpensive -- less than $30 each in quantity -- and produce a nominal 1 watt of light.]

From
Motor Trend

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...

UK: 270% rise in Surrey-area laser pen incidents

Surrey Police say there is a “significant rise” in laser pens being pointed at people and vehicles. In the first six months of 2011, there were 14 incidents involving lasers and aircraft, 8 involving lasers and vehicles, and 15 involving lasers and “people or premises”. This is an increase of 270%, compared with the same period in 2010, when there were 2 aircraft, 2 vehicle and 6 people/premises incidents.

A spokesperson pledged to “deal robustly with any incident involving laser light whether it is an assault on another member of the public or a device being pointed at a vehicle. Laser pen owners should also be aware that Surrey Police’s collision investigation unit can pursue a manslaughter charge if it is found that a fatal or life changing injury collision is due to the use of a laser light. All offences have a power of arrest and could result in a term of imprisonment.”

Police are especially concerned about aircraft illuminations in East Surrey, near Gatwick Airport.

From Elmbridge Today, BBC News, and Redhill and Reigate Life. A list of laser pen offences, compiled by the Surrey police, is here.