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CANADA: Airbus agrees to commercialize anti-laser windscreen material; eliminates need for laser protective eyewear
The film will not fully block the laser light. But it will significantly reduce the glare and temporary flash blindness effects that can occur when a laser is aimed at an aircraft cockpit. This in turn reduces the potential hazard of a laser illumination.
The announcement was made at a February 21 2017 press conference. In a press release kit photo, MTI’s founder and CEO, George Palikaras, demonstrated the laser-reflecting properties by holding up a windscreen that included MTI’s metaAir film:
The press release did not indicate a time frame for introduction of the windscreens into service, nor details such as an estimated cost, or aircraft to be outfitted. An Airbus spokesperson did say that there are applications beyond the company’s commercial aircraft division. Palikaras said that metaAir “can offer solutions in other industries including the military, transportation and glass manufacturers.”
For more detailed information on Airbus’ and MTI’s plans, see this page which includes interview Q&A questions with George Palikaras a few days after the February 21 press conference.
UPDATED April 14 2017: Metamaterials Technologies Inc. closed an $8.3 million round of funding. This will be used to support commercialization of the windscreen film and to add needed staff. MTI can produce MetaAir sheets 80 cm wide by 100 cm long, which is sufficient for standard cockpit windows that are 60 cm wide. However, the process is currently semi-automated and needs to be fully automated. MTI is also looking for new headquarters. From the Chronicle Herald.
Metamaterial Technologies Inc. issued a press release dated February 21 2017, which is reprinted below.
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Researchers at Stanford University wanted to get data on how much lift a bird generates. To monitor the wing wake and vortices, they used a laser beam spread by a lens into a plane of light. The light source was a Litron brand double-pumped Neodymium-doped yttrium lithium fluoride (Nd:YLF) laser. The light was green at 527 nanometers, and had a pulse repetition rate of 1 kHz.
A non-toxic mist in the air illuminated the light sheet, just like theatrical fog used at concert laser light shows. As the bird flew through the light, the mist scattered and showed the air patterns, in a technique called “particle imaging velocimetry” or PIV.
Bird-sized goggles were used to prevent any harm to the bird’s eyesight. The lenses came from human laser safety glasses and had an optical density of 6, meaning that they transmitted only 0.001% of the laser light. The frame was 3D printed and was held on by veterinary tape. The goggles weighed 1.68 grams, which is roughly 6% of the bird’s body weight (equivalent to 9 pound glasses on a 150 lb. human).
Before beginning the series of experiments, the researchers trained four parrotlets “through many small stress-free steps of habituation.” After “several months of effort” with the birds, only one — a parrotlet named “Obi” — voluntarily flew with the laser goggles. According to the researchers, “[a]ll training and experimental procedures were approved by Stanford's Administrative Panel on Laboratory Animal Care.”
Twelve cameras were used. Four high-speed stereo cameras were for PIV particle motion recording and recorded 4000 frames per flight. Eight cameras were for recording Obi’s wing and head kinematics as it flew from one perch, through the laser light plane, to a landing perch.
The results give “the clearest picture to date of the wake left by a flying animal.” Unexpectedly, the wing tip vortices did not stay stable as happens with aircraft, but instead broke up quickly and violently. This had not been predicted by any previous models.
From a Stanford University news story, picked up by numerous websites and news outlets including Popular Mechanics, NBC News, The Verge, Optics.org and many others. The results were published December 6 2016 in the journal Bioinspiration & Biometrics, volume 12, number 1.
UK: Statistics on police helicopter laser attacks; one has been struck 100 times "over the last year"
Assuming “over the past year” means “in the last 12 months”, that would be an average of about two laser illuminations per week.
A separate article from BBC News states that in 2015 there were 91 reported laser illuminations of National Police Air Service aircraft. The largest number was 20 attacks against NPAS helicopters taking off from its Carr Gate headquarters near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.”
Reasons for the apparent discrepancy in numbers are not clear. It may be that South Yorkshire is not a member of the NPAS, which provides centralized air support to local police forces.
The BBC News chart below shows the 2015 NPAS laser attacks:
The NPAS is testing laser protective eyewear, as a means to help protect flight crews.
From The Star and BBC News. Interestingly, a September 14 search of the South Yorkshire Police website, to find more information about these incidents and police concern regarding lasers, did not find any results when searching for the term “laser.”
The US Army Contracting Center, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Natick Contracting Division (NCD) on behalf of the US Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) intends to issue a solicitation under Authority of FAR Part 15 for Research and Development (R&D) efforts to deliver prototype systems capable of meeting Next Generation Eye Protection (NGEP) requirements. Eyewear must be capable of exceeding military ballistic fragmentation protection requirements for eye protection as currently outlined in MIL-PRF-32432, meet optical quality requirements, provide configuration(s) with laser eye protection, accommodate varying light conditions, and be compatible with the Universal Prescription Lens Carrier (UPLC) to accommodate Marines requiring vision correction. Since follow-on production is envisioned, the ability to produce protective eyewear in production quantities is also a key consideration.
The Government is anticipating awarding 1 or more firm fixed price (FFP) contracts with a period of performance of 12 months for the required services. The Government reserves the right to award one or no contracts as a result of the solicitation.
From the pre-solicitation notice at FedBizOpps.gov. The Solicitation Number is W911QY-16-R-0043.
“Air Force aircrew members require an ALEP system for day and night applications that balance requirements for laser eye protection, mission/aircraft compatibility, and flight safety. The ALEP Block 2 system provides aircrew members with enhanced protection against hazard and threat laser devices in combat and training situations while minimizing visual acuity degradation. The ALEP Block 2 system also provides sufficient protection to prevent permanent eye damage and temporary effects (glare, flash blindness, etc.) from laser weapons/devices. The Block 2 system is compatible with current aircrew flight equipment, cockpit/cabin displays, exterior aircraft lights, and airfield lights, night vision devices, helmet mounted displays, and exterior scenery.”
The supplier is Teledyne Scientific & Imaging. The contract amount is $30.1 million, meaning the cost amortized over each spectacle is $2,550. The sole source contract stated “Teledyne is the only firm capable of providing the supplies without the USAF experiencing substantial duplication of cost that could not be expected to be recovered through competition and unacceptable delays in fulfilling its requirements.”
From GovTribe and airforce-technology.com. The federal solicitation number for this contract is FA8606-15-C-6370.
The glasses block three laser wavelengths, in the red, green and blue regions. According to Dr. Perricone, “The real challenge was how do you block out red, blue, and green without changing the color discrimination. It’s critical a pilot sees color. He has to look at his instruments, he has to look at runway lights and a lot of other signals.”
A July 30 2015 news story said the glasses “have been manufactured and are ready for purchase, costing $400 a pair.”
Dr. Perricone was quoted as saying that if pilots are required to wear glasses like these, “then this problem will go away. No one is going to throw rocks at a window that won’t break.”
More information at the LaserPointerSafety.com page on the 2015 Nanocomposite coating study
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.
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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.
TASC is working on countermeasures such as laser eye protection and the development of procedures for injury assessment. The work is being performed under the Optical Radiation Bioeffects and Safety contract with the Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing’s Optical Radiation Bioeffects Branch at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.
From the San Antonio Business Journal
After tests in mid-2013, the Basil Justice and Security Department purchased 1,000 pairs of laser protective eyewear, at 200 Swiss Francs each (USD $224).
All Basel police officers and rescue emergency vehicles are equipped with the glasses, as of December 2013. Other Swiss cantons are in the testing phase.
The Basel anti-laser glasses are demonstrated in this frame from a SRF video.
From a December 16 2013 report by Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen, (original German text and Google-translated into English). Thanks to Basel officer Ruedi Maier for bringing this to our attention. For additional news items from Switzerland, including the 2011 purchase of laser protective eyewear for air rescue helicopter pilots, click here.
A police pilot spokesperson said laser users are not reading the packaging which clearly states not to aim at aircraft. After being caught, "There's been a lot of apologies, a lot of regret, some people not realizing the consequences of what they were doing, and then there's been the far opposite -- I can't believe this is happening, this is ludicrous, this isn't serious, it's just a laser pointer."
The pilot also said that a ban is not the answer: "If it's used properly, it's harmless. It's hard to ban something like that, the sale of it completely if 95% of the general public are using it properly."
He noted that not just police aircraft are being lased. Commercial and private aircraft also are at risk.
Edmonton police helicopter pilots are equipped with safety glasses for use during laser illuminations. They have two pair, one to attenuate red laser light and one to attenuate green laser light.
For details on the two most recent Edmonton incidents, on September 6 and 7 2012, see this LaserPointerSafety.com story.
From the Edmonton Journal and Edmonton Sun. Thanks to Keith Murland for bringing this to our attention.
Laser protection team leader Andy Mott was quoted as saying “Lasers of varying pulse width and wavelength are being developed every day. We protect against the known threats, and unknown ones. We develop protection for electronic sensors of the future, as well as the sighting systems of today.”
More details are at the Military.com story
Because the laser pulse wavelength used was in the infrared, and the cells were cultured (not live retinas) there is no current practical use for pilots and others looking for glasses-free resistance to visible laser light. However, this research may open up other avenues as it does indicate that perhaps the retina can be “hardened.”
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The LaseReflect Aviator LRG10 glasses are said to mitigate the effects of laser illumination incidents. They reflect more than 99% of 532 nanometer green laser light, the most common color in laser attacks. (According to FAA statistics, about 95% of reported incidents in recent years have involved green light.) They also reflect near-infrared light at 1064 nm, which often is a byproduct of green lasers that are not manufactured with adequate IR-blocking filters. The cost is USD $299.
Custom LaseReflect Aviator glasses are available for specific colors and powers, including multiple wavelengths in a single pair of glasses. For example, blue (405 nm and 445 nm) and red (650 nm) light can also be reflected by the glasses.
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According to a professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, gold-tinted eyewear has been used by military pilots for laser protection but only works against certain wavelengths of laser light. However, said Dan Macchiarella, if Thomas’ idea “could be applied to lasers of all strengths and wavelengths, that would certainly be a big advancement.”
A March 10 2013 Orlando Sentinel story noted that funding cuts and competition for grants mean that Thomas’ research faces “some serious hurdles” to develop this idea further. Thomas said finding research money is “going to be very difficult, very difficult.”
From the Orlando Sentinel
From Vertical magazine
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It is not clear whether the filter is available at this time (May 2012). The company intends to incorporate it into glasses and night-vision goggles worn by pilots, to protect against flash blindness, meaning power densities from 100 µW/cm² up to 1000 µW/cm².
The ALESA card is available in hard copy, and can also be downloaded from CAA’s website. If downloaded, the Amsler Grid on the first page should be printed so it is 10 x 10 cm.
When staring at the dot in the center of the grid, if the lines appear distorted or there are blank or faded areas, there may be a problem. The person is encouraged to remove themselves from aviation-related duties such as flying or air traffic control, and to see an eye specialist.
The second page has a flowchart of exposure conditions leading either to a “1” meaning unlikely eye damage or a “2” meaning eye damage possibility. If the person scores a “2”, the flowchart suggests they see an eye specialist.
From PilotWeb and the CAA ALESA webpage. The CAA press release about ALESA is here.
[NOTE: The amounts above represent about $2,400 per pair of laser protection spectacles. More information about anti-laser glasses for pilots, including non-military versions protecting against one or two visible wavelengths for roughly $100-200, is here.]
From a Teledyne Technologies press release
The action was taken because laser attacks are on the rise: six in 2009, 11 in 2010 and 16 to mid-October in 2011.
The sale of strong laser pointers was banned in Switzerland in May. The Federal Health Office is currently reviewing the possibility of banning their possession and use. Checks carried out by the Federal Office of Metrology this year showed that more than 95 per cent of the pointers tested were stronger than the permitted limit.
The eyewear, made by NoiR, significantly reduces laser light, without adversely affecting pilot vision of cockpit instruments or airport lights. Because some laser light is transmitted, pilots and flight officers will still be able to track the source of a laser illumination.
The decision to purchase the glasses was made because of recent laser incidents in the St. Louis area. A spokesperson said the eyewear is “another tool to keep us in the air.”