A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: Toy helicopter powered by 500-watt laser beam; kept aloft for more than a day

A $300 AR Drone toy helicopter was kept aloft for over a day by a 500-watt invisible laser beam aimed at solar panels that hung underneath. The successful laser-powered flight endurance record was set by the Kansas City Space Pirates robotics team.

They noted that the technique could be scaled up to create laser-powered drones that could do useful work: “commercial laser-powered flight applications are only a few years away.”
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UK: Handheld (industrial) laser easily cuts through metal

A UK firm, TWI Ltd., has made a handheld laser that can easily cut through plate metal up to 10 mm thick. In 2010, the Cambridge company developed an industrial robot with a laser cutter head, used to decommission nuclear reactors. To create the handheld version, they removed the head from the robot, and added a pistol stock with trigger to turn the beam on and off.

Pic 2013-09-30 at 5.51.25 PM

The device came to public attention September 28 2013 when gadget blog Gizmodo published an article entitled Holy Crap, This Real-Life Laser Rifle Cuts Through Metal Like Nothing. The article links to TWI’s YouTube video of the laser in action.

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US: Military aircrews can use finger-mounted laser pointers for target identification

A Sharper Image-like catalog of U.S. Army equipment includes the LA-8/P Aircrew Laser Pointer. The copy describes it as a “small, finger-mounted infrared [non-visible] laser for identification, signaling, and fire direction during night operations.” It attaches to a glove and is triggered by the thumb. There are two powers, high (Class 3B) and low (Class 1). The device is manufactured by DRS Technologies in Melbourne, FL.

Aircrew Laser Pointer p1_450w
Aircrew Laser Pointer p2_large_450w

For the military laser enthusiast, the catalog contains a number of other laser devices such as the AN/PEQ-14 Integrated Laser White Light Pointer (actually a white flashlight plus a visible and an invisible laser):

Laser pointer gun mount

From the Program Executive Officer Soldier Portfolio FY2012 catalog. The LA-8/P is on printed pages 138-139, electronic pages 146-147. Originally found via GovWin.

Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: Although the LA-8/P Aircrew Laser Pointer does not emit a visible beam, it would be easy to make a visible version so that aircrews could “fire back” at persons on the ground aiming laser pointers at them. Whether this is a wise idea is another matter.

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.