A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use
In a January 22 2018 Hackaday post, Tom Nardi purchased a “Home Accents Holiday Multi-Color Light Projector” from a hardware chain on clearance, marked down from $56 to just $14.
He removed the cover with four screws and found the parts inside used connectors instead of solder: “It’s like they wanted us to strip it for parts.”
The lasers were defocused inside. “…[A]t 3 meters the spots looked as large as dinner plates…. Once focused, it becomes pretty clear that these lasers are quite a bit more powerful than the <5 mW listed on the product’s warning sticker.”
The green and blue laser diode modules inside the holiday projector
Nardi noted that the blue laser, when focused, was “easily able to burn pieces of paper and punch holes in black plastic.” He also estimated that the green laser was “at least twice as bright” as a laser pointer he owns that claims to be 50 mW: “…it certainly would not surprise me if they are both [green and blue] at least 100 mW.”
Nardi writes: “If your biggest take-away from this post is that the Home Depot is selling a 440 nm laser you can use to burn stuff, I certainly don’t blame you.”
From Hackaday. LaserPointerSafety.com has a page with more information, including measurements of the beam output of a Star Shower projector, here.
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: In fairness to Home Accents, the FDA-required warning sticker has to do with the laser power of the unopened unit in its factory configuration. Class 3R (IIIa) laser projectors like this are not allowed in the U.S. to be over 5 mW output power. It may be that after going through the holographic diffraction grating that creates the stars, that the Home Accents projector meets Food and Drug Administration requirements for user access to laser light.
Michael Reeves’ tongue-in-cheek narration states “…it’s really doing its job of lasering me in the eye which is the real innovation here. To my pleasant surprise I found that this machine also solved another of society's problems; the fact that you're not seeing little tiny dots in your vision all day long. I know where to go when I wanted to see little dots, now I can't focus on anything.”
The laser in the video looks substantially more powerful than the U.S. FDA limit of 5 milliwatts. (However, it can be difficult to estimate laser power from a video. For example, the camera may be more red-sensitive than human eyes which might explain why the beam seems so large and bright.)
Anyone doing this should be aware of the problem of laser pointers often being more powerful than the label states, and more powerful than the U.S. limit of 5 mW.
Fortunately for Reeves’ vision, the laser is mechanically aimed by two devices that move it left-right and up-down. This makes the aiming relatively slow and lagging the facial recognition, so the beam can be dodged much of the time. He moves to avoid the beam, and is hit in or very near to an eye about once every couple of seconds.
The screenshot below shows the camera (blue arrow) and a laser module mounted on two servos (yellow arrow).
As befits a student budget, the housing is an old pizza box. Reeves wrote the facial recognition and aiming program in C#, using Emgu CV, a .Net wrapper for the OpenCV computer vision library.
In about a day, the video received 80,000 views as well as being featured at tech blog The Verge.
From The Verge. Original YouTube video here.
UPDATED April 19 2017: Michael Reeves told C/Net “My eyes are fine. A lot of people seem concerned about that, which I admit is warranted. I used a 5 mW laser diode, and never had it in my vision for more than a fraction of a second."
BBQ-905 Laser Dazzler Weapon
PY132A Blinding Laser Weapon
China’s use of the weapons appears to violate the 1998 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons, which China has agreed to follow. A Washington Free Beacon article quoted an expert on Chinese weapons as saying “There is a strong possibility these new dazzlers are being marketed for foreign sale.”
From China Military Online via the Washington Free Beacon. Additional photos showing the weapons and how they would be used are at Huanqui.com.
Wicked is a major internet advertiser and a heavy user of AdWords. By doing this, the company puts the information in front of a large audience of persons whose browsing history indicates they are interested in lasers.
The Wicked Lasers AdWords ad, with the safety phrase highlighted to show its location. (The highlighting does not appear in the actual ad.)
The company’s intent is to help reduce the number of incidents of persons aiming lasers at aircraft. They are also one of the few companies to include a “don’t aim at aircraft” warning on their lasers’ labels, and in the user manual.
Brought to our attention by Steve Liu, CEO of Wicked Lasers
The Aerolaser is made by the Delft, Netherlands company “Bird Control Group”. The handheld device uses a green laser with a range over 2500 meters (1.6 miles). The company claims that birds do not grow used to the laser, and it is safe for the animals. According to an article at the website IHS Airport360, “As a safety feature, the laser is disabled above a certain height - this prevents the beam from being shone directly at aircraft or controllers in the tower.” In addition, the operator can look through a scope so he or she knows where the beam will be directed.
Conceptual diagram of using a handheld laser around airports, from Aerolaser.com
A frame from an Aerolaser video describing use at the Southampton airport.
A frame from another Aerolaser video showing laser light scattering birds.
The company also makes an automatic, autonomous system called Aerolaser Groundflex, pictured below from the company’s website:
According to Wikipedia, “bird strikes are a significant threat to flight safety” since 35% of strikes result in damage to the aircraft, costing $400 million per year in the U.S. and up to $1.2 billion per year worldwide.
Bird Control Group also makes the Agrilaser Lite (range of 1000 meters) and the Agrilaser Handheld (range over 2000 meters), intended to keep birds away from fields and crops.
The reviewer, Bill Kuch, says the green-only version contains a Class IIIa laser that uses diffractive holographic optics to create the beams. According to the instruction pamphlet, “Each individual laser beam is less than 5 mW, which is about the same as an average laser pointer.”
He then talks about testing the unit indoors and outdoors. Kuch said that after aiming at the tree canopy around his cabin in the woods, his neighbors came out, commented positively, and asked where they could purchase one.
In the final paragraph, he says when he pointed the projector up into the trees, “that begs the question: could it interfere with aircraft flying overhead?”
Review of the Viatek Night Stars Landscape Lighting from the Gadgeteer.
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He pointed to Pablo Picasso, who in 1949 collaborated with Life Magazine photographer Cjon Mili to create light drawings:
From a series of photos created by Picasso for Life Magazine in 1949
Di Cecco said that using laser pointers was a challenge: “When you open the shutter for 20 seconds, you have to go really fast with the light – it’s like dancing. And sometimes the model moves, and you have to try and try with the same model for the perfect picture.”
From the Phnom Penh Post. Additional photos of Di Cecco’s work can be seen at the link.
A YouTube video shows infrared and visible footage of the test.
The 10-kilowatt High Energy Laser (HEL) system previously demonstrated an ability to track, target and destroy rockets traveling at high speed.
From Gizmag and Engadget
The SKY Technologies Blue Handheld includes a keyswitch, 3-5 second emission delay, remote interlock, and a shutter to cut off the beam, as required by FDA regulations enforced by the agency’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). Under current (May 2014) law, the laser appears to be legal for sale and use in the U.S., assuming the manufacturer also submitted a proper Laser Product Report and has filled all other FDA/CDRH import and paperwork obligations.*
Click to read more...
The C-MUSIC system mounted on a Boeing 737-800
The system was developed after a 2002 incident in Kenya where terrorists fired two surface-to-air missiles at an Israeli charter plane carrying more than 250 passengers; the missiles missed their target. C-MUSIC will be added to all El Al aircraft. In addition, the developer Elbit Systems has contracts with other countries besides Israel.
From Wired via Ubergizmo
The technique is to look in the desired direction with the red aiming beams on, then to switch on the blue beams while looking at the desired target. The glasses have a lens that attenuates blue laser light, so that the user is protected in case of any reflected blue beams.
The two blue beams emitted from Priebe’s glasses, each roughly 1 watt, can burn cloth and pop balloons.
His inspiration: Cyclops’s 2-gigawatt “optic blast,” which is red in the Marvel comic books.
An online YouTube video shows Priebe’s laser glasses in action:
Due to the inherent danger of head-worn lasers, Priebe is not making additional glasses and he is not offering plans for others to build their own.
Priebe has previously built custom laser gadgets such as a replica of Iron Man’s palm-mounted repulsor ray projector, a laser “Gatling gun” with six rotating 1.4 watt blue beams, and a laser gun that emits a non-visible 1 megawatt pulse.
From Gizmodo. Original video posted by AnselmoFanZero.
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.
Barry Jackson, an A380 pilot and former president of a pilot’s association, cautioned in early January 2014 that this can be “extremely dangerous” for aircraft that are landing.
UFO hunter Alan Ferguson agreed with Jackson’s characterization of the danger. Ferguson lives in Acacia Hills, about 35 miles from Darwin, capital of the Northern Territory. His website, UFOterritory.com.au, contains videos and descriptions of sightings, including some videos of lasers being used to contact or power up UFOs.
Ferguson noted that he and his UFO-hunting associates are “very professional ... and can see the difference between a UFO and a plane ... Especially when they just appear and then move off then stop again, no planes do that.” He said persons who do aim at aircraft are “idiots” and should be prosecuted.
On January 4 2014, laser pointers were aimed at aircraft landing at Darwin International Airport. Ferguson said neither he nor visiting associates used lasers during that time.
Persons who shine a laser pointer at aircraft in the Northern Territory can be jailed for up to four years.
Two frames from a YouTube video shot January 4 2014 by Peter Maxwell Slattery, using a night vision monocular. The first frame shows Slattery aiming a laser at a dot moving steadily across the sky from right to left. The next frame is from a few seconds later and shows the “power up” effect. A YouTube search for “UFO laser pointer” brings up numerous videos with titles such as “UFO’s respond to laser pointers” and “UFO inspects my laser pointer”.
The company’s free “Evo” app is available on Apple iOS and Android app stores. A smartphone connects to the Evo laser either using a cable from the audio output jack, or wirelessly using an optional $40 Bluetooth module that attaches to the laser. Once connected, the app allows remote control of the laser’s output power, and of its flashing frequency. (Although anyone can download the app, the software does not appear to run unless connected to a Wicked E4 series laser such as the Evo.)
The software code is available as open source, so that hobbyists can create their own software to custom-control the Evo.
Click to read more...
The bill was originally introduced November 15 2012. The sponsor, National MP Dr Cam Calder, said the handheld laser pointers “have the potential to cause considerable harm, and put lives at risk when improperly used.” In addition to a penalty of up to three months in prison and up to a NZD $2000 fine (USD $1650), police also would be able to confiscate lasers.
Dr Calder told Parliament that the New Zealand Airline Pilots Association was “very much” in favor of the bill. In 2012, there were over 100 incidents where lasers were aimed at aircraft and moving vehicles.
According to NZ News, “Labor and the Greens supported the bill, although they had concerns the definitions in the bill might be too broad.” Below is the debate on the bill (after the “Read More…” link.) The bill was referred to the Transport and Industrial Relations Committee; their report is due on or before March 25 2014.
In addition, the Ministry of Health is developing regulations addressing the importation and sale of handheld lasers. They are expected to be announced by the end of 2013.
Click to read more...
A new, first-person account from Egypt states that laser pointers were originally used to harass snipers and lookouts using binoculars, and to irritate political enemies. However, the dramatic use of dozens of lasers aimed at Egyptian army helicopters was intended as friendly, being used to “greet” the military who by this time was on the side of the protesters.
(It needs to be noted that, regardless of intent, laser light can flashblind and disrupt pilots. Due to the potential flight and crash hazards, it is illegal in the U.S. and many countries to even aim a laser towards an aircraft.)
Click to read more...
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The bright rays and the lens flare effects were not captured by the camera but were added later. This may have been done for artistic effect, or to make the lasers look more dangerous. However, this incident does serve as a reminder that “you can’t always believe what you see”.
An aerial view, as seen on Egyptian network Capital Broadcasting Center, gives an idea of what the lasers looked like approaching Tahrir Square. In this scene, there is one blue beam and roughly 30 green beams.
Click to read more...
There have been no reports of injuries to the air crews, or of the laser light causing the pilots to lose control. [UPDATE, July 8 2013: A first-person account states that the pointers were friendly, intended to “greet” the army pilots who at this point were on the side of the protesters.]
The Yahoo Sports story noted that laser pens are often misused by European soccer fans. In late February 2013, two world-famous players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, were targeted during a pair of games.
Ronaldo (left) and Messi, illuminated by lasers during matches between Real Madrid and Barcelona
Josephburg told Yahoo Sports that athletes could be especially at risk, since lasers could cause serious damage from an exposure of a few seconds. He said “If I was a ball player I would be terrified. I only hope that Congress acts on this before some real harm is done.”
Lasers with powers of over 50 milliwatts are dangerous, Josephburg said, and can have serious effects almost immediately. The only effective deterrent is to punish possession or use of high-powered pointers, according to Josephburg: “There is simply no need for a regular person to have one of these.”
From Yahoo Sports
Illegal imports of laser pointers explode - 24 July 2012
Customs and Border Protection is warning travellers and online shoppers about Australia’s tough laws prohibiting the import of laser pointers.
This follows a dramatic increase in the number of these dangerous items being seized by officers at the border.
In the past year, the number of laser pointers seized by Customs and Border Protection officers at the Sydney International Mail Centre alone has increased by close to 60 per cent, from around 9,000 to over 14,000.
Australian import officers spill out a container full of confiscated packages of illegally-imported laser pointers.
Importing laser pointers greater than one milliwatt in intensity is prohibited in Australia without a permit.
“The sheer volume of these importations suggests that people do not understand the threat these items pose to safety, particularly to commercial aircraft,” said National Manager Cargo Operations, Jagtej Singh.
Customs and Border Protection officers are trained to detect prohibited and restricted items from the millions of items which arrive each week.
“If you try and import laser pointers without a permit, there’s a high possibility they’ll be found by Customs and Border Protection, seized, and you may even face fines of up to $275,000.”
Customs and Border Protection has produced a video clip outlining the risks being taken by people who inadvertently or deliberately breach the laws on laser pointers.
It can be viewed on the agency’s YouTube channel.
According to this video, “Customs officers screen all incoming mail imported into Australia, and items such as laser pointers WILL show up on X-ray.”
Media enquiries: Customs and Border Protection Media (02) 6275 6793
From Australia Customs and Border Protection
The late April 2012 undertaking was inspired by a recurring theme of Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers movies, who wanted a weapon of “frickin' sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their frickin' heads.”
This is not the first time such a project has been done. In 2007, Kip Kedersha (“Kipkay”) posted a YouTube video showing how he bought a surplus Playstation 3 laser diode for $45 and a Star Trek toy for $30, in order to make a laser-emitting phaser.
A Huffington Post story has the 2012 video, as well as links to earlier videos and detailed build instructions.
From Reddit via the Huffington Post
Two-frame animated GIF showing bright and dim light from the Lozano Observatory (center) near the city of San Antonio (left). North is to the right in this photo from the International Space Station, taken by astronaut Don Pettit. Click on photo for a larger version.
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The spotlights were flashed at the ISS by holding plywood sheets in front of the lights every two seconds. This procedure can be seen in the video below.
The animated GIF above shows a bright blue light alternating with a dim light. The bright light is almost certainly from the spotlights. The bluish tint may be an artifact of oversaturating the camera’s sensor. Astronaut Don Pettit reported that the bright light appeared white, and the dim light appeared blue. He wrote “We could only see the laser when the white light was off and not all the time.” (E.g., the white spotlights overpowered the blue laser.) He added, “It was like there were tracking issues with the laser to keep it on target.”
The dim light in the animated GIF may be the laser only, or it may be light from the spotlights that wasn’t fully blocked by the plywood sheets. The astronomers will be working with Pettit, trying to pin down exactly how visible the laser light was.
Author John Wills notes that laser sights are not as effective beyond 20 feet, and they do not substitute for marksmanship techniques such as grip and stance.
Glock Model 23 with M6 Tactical Laser Illuminator (xenon light plus red laser pointer < 5 mW).
Image from nukeit1 at Flickr, CC by 2.0 license.
Green laser sights are now available; they are more easily seen than an equivalent-power red laser. Infrared laser sights are made for use with night vision goggles. The beam cannot be seen by the naked eye, so a bad guy does not even know he is being targeted.
Wills concludes by saying “like any other tool there is a right way and a wrong way to use” lasers.
DragonMart in Dubai claims to be “the largest trading centre for Chinese products outside mainland China,” with almost 4,000 shops. A Gulf News reporter found shops selling lasers under-the-counter for AED 40 to AED 80 ($11-$22). An internet search turned up lasers for sale in Dubai and Abu Dhabi around AED 500 ($136) that were described with terms such as “draw a line in the sky,” “extremely bright green,” and could cause “permanent eye damage”.
The article noted that United Arab Emirates officials have said that illegal use of lasers could lead to fines and jail time.
From GulfNews.com and DragonMart. We have found two articles about youths in Abu Dhabi being arrested after aiming lasers at a helicopter, in June 2010 and in October 2007. Video of the June 2010 incident, uploaded by the Abu Dhabi Police, is available on YouTube (click the photo to go to the YouTube page).
Cockpit view of the ABL shooting down a missile on Feb. 11 2010. Video is here.
A key reason for the ABL shutdown was the cost of the project versus the projected military returns. Another reason is that the Missile Defense Agency is looking to a new generation of laser systems with “much denser capacity or greater power lasers in smaller packages and operating at much higher altitudes.” Unmanned aerial vehicles would be an ideal platform. The MDA’s director said antimissile drones using solid-state lasers could be a reality by 2020.
From Aviation Week. An analysis of laser weapons is at Strategy Page.
Commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com: We included this story because people sometimes wonder if lasers aimed from the ground can damage an aircraft’s airframe. The short answer is “no”. It would take a system similar to the $5 billion ABL. However, the Missile Defense Agency is now indicating that military-developed solid-state lasers may be able to cause enough damage to down a missile -- or aircraft -- within this decade (the 2010s).
While it is unlikely that non-state groups could deploy such a device, it is more of a possibility than independently developing an ABL-like COIL gas laser. For the foreseeable future, the threat to aircraft remains the visual impairment caused by bright laser light, and to a lesser degree, the possibility of causing retinal lesion eye injuries.
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):
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.
This dreidel projects two laser dots, creating two circles when spun (insert photo). The listing above is from the U.S. Amazon.com website.
Click to read more...
The news story points out that laser pointers can cause permanent vision damage. In addition, the story says the laser is sold “without a filter,” probably meaning without an infrared (IR) filter. IR light can damage the retina -- like visible light -- but also could damage the cornea.
Concept of the rifle, from the Daily Mail
The developer is Photonic Security Systems, which also markets the rifle as a pirate deterrent. The Telegraph says that similar devices have been used in Afghanistan by NATO-led International Security Assistance Force troops.
PSS managing director Paul Kerr told the International Business Times "The very purpose of this technology is to be non-damaging … If someone is prepared to just stand there and stare down the barrel at this, which would be incredibly uncomfortable, then they are definitely a threat.” He said that he has often been exposed to the laser: "The quality and safety of the device is paramount and I know that first hand because I have been the guinea pig many times. I know what it is like and I know how effective it can be."
Author and activist Cory Doctorow points out that “the UK is a signatory on the Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons … this weapon wouldn’t run afoul of international law if it (merely) reduced your vision to the point where you were impaired but not legally blind, permanently.” Doctorow also says “Twitter wags are already predicting a resurgence of mirrorshades [reflective sunglasses] among protesters.”
From the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the International Business Times and BoingBoing. See related story on BAE Systems anti-pirate dazzler.
A promotional photo demonstrating the concept of the PinPoint Focus Assist
The manufacturer says the PinPoint complies with U.S. FDA safety regulations. It is said to be a Class 2 green DPSS diode with output power less than 1 milliwatt. The focus range is from 2.5ft/7.5m to 131ft/40m; the aiming range is 700ft/210m in low-light and “further in darkness”.
At their website, DeluxGear has an admirable list of safety warnings which include:
- Don’t aim at a person’s eyes. This can cause “temporary vision dysfunction such as flash blindness, disorientation or glare. This can be particularly dangerous if the exposed person is engaged in a vision-critical activity such as driving or other means of transportation.”
- Don’t aim it at a person without notifying them in advance.
- Don’t aim at a law enforcement officer as this is illegal in many jurisdictions.
- Never aim at vehicles including aircraft.
- Don’t allow a minor to use unsupervised. In some jurisdictions it is illegal for a minor to purchase or use a laser product
Incidentally, the beam on/off function is separate from the camera. This means the beam does NOT come on when the shutter button is pressed, but instead is controlled by a separate switch on the PinPoint.
From DeluxGear; click on the “Protect Your Gear” menu to read the list of safety warnings.
Could a UFO with green lights have caused this crack?
It follows a report to the Halstead Gazette and a UFO website that a resident saw green lights rotating above her in Nether Court on Friday and left a large crack in the ground.
The frightened woman's daughter, who would only be identified as Nel, called Essex Police after the 7pm incident to check if it was the force helicopter. A police spokesman said it was not the helicopter but could have been laser pens.
But Nel is adamant it was not laser pens, and has since carried out internet research suggesting similar beams have been seen in diverse places such as Cornwall, Mexico, Nova Scotia and China.
From the Halstead Gazette on October 28 2011. Also, see this post at UK UFO Sightings; scroll down for the comment from Nel.
Speakers generally agreed on the nature and scope of lasers as a threat to air safety. They also offered similar solutions, including educating the public to not misuse lasers, prosecuting those who do, training pilots on how to "recognize and recover" from incidents, increasing the number of reports from pilots and the public, and restricting laser pointer availability.
The ALPA conference made news primarily for the announcement of a new FAA web page, which can be reached via www.faa.gov/go/laserinfo. FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt told the ALPA attendees that the web page -- erroneously described as a "website" in many media accounts -- would centralize the agency's information on laser/aviation safety. The page includes email addresses where pilots, air traffic control and the public can report laser incidents (see separate story about the FAA web page).
Babbitt also said that the FAA currently has filed 18 civil cases against individuals who aimed lasers at aircraft. There is a maximum $11,000 fine in each case.
Other speakers gave updates and information in their areas of expertise.Click to read more...
The laser pointer is imprinted with the slogan “Nuclear Energy for All, Nuclear Weapon for None” at the top, and “I.R. of Iran, Uranium” at the bottom. The design is based on the Iranian IR-1 centrifuge, which in turn is based on the Pakistani 1 (P-1).
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad walks past rows of IR-1 nuclear enrichment centrifuges during a tour of Natanz on April 8 2008.
Iran’s nuclear program has been heavily scrutinized by Western countries, with several United Nations resolutions imposing sanctions on the country. It is widely believed that the U.S. and Israel may have developed and distributed the Stuxnet virus in order to cripple Iranian centrifuges. Approximately 1000 IR-1 centrifuges were damaged, out of about 10,000 total centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility.
From Jeffrey Lewis at Arms Control Wonk via The Envoy at Yahoo News, with additional research from the New York Times and Wikipedia
US: UPDATED - Myrtle Beach CAP official witholds safety flights after being charged for confiscating laser pointer from 12-year-old (+ 2 updates)
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...
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...
Hobbyist Patrick Priebe’s inspiration was the comic book character “Iron Man”, who has “repulsor rays” in the palms of his armor’s gloves. Priebe’s device is self-contained, with the battery in a case that wraps around the back of the hand. Simply flexing his hand triggers the beam to fire.
Priebe’s 1 watt, 445 nm blue laser beam ignites a match
His inspiration: Iron Man’s repulsor ray glove, as seen here in the motion picture with Robert Downey, Jr.
Priebe made a number of versions. He is selling limited numbers (not mass-produced) of kits and assembled gloves on laser pointer forums for $200-500 depending on the version.
From Popular Science and many other sources. Details on the construction are at Hacked Gadgets. Videos of the device in action are here and here.
To give an idea of its power, here are some comparisons:
- The U.S. limit for a laser to be sold as a pointer is 5 mW (0.005 watt). The new lasers are 400 times more powerful than a “legal” laser pointer.
- The infamous Wicked Laser Spyder III Arctic is nominally a 1000 mW laser (1 watt). However, most Arctics actually emit around 800 mW, so if the new lasers really reach 2000 mW then they are 2.5 times as powerful as a Wicked Arctic.
- The most dangerous laser classification, Class 4, begins at 500 mW (1/2 watt) for visible light. Class 4 lasers can cause instant eye damage, skin burns, and can be a fire hazard for certain materials. The new devices are four times the minimum for a Class 4 laser.
- A 2000 mW laser is an eye hazard up to about 1,000 feet away from the laser.
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.
This differs from most pointers and handheld lasers, which use lasers that emit continuous light. This one emits a single, strong pulse each time the trigger is pulled. It is “enough to punch holes in plastic sheets, scorch wood, and pop balloons from several feet away” according to Dvice.com.
The maker, Patrick Priebe, posted a YouTube video showing the gun in action. He also was offering it for sale. According to Priebe, the gun uses a Q-switched Nd:YAG laser. It takes four seconds to charge the capacitor; the gun then fires a 100 nanosecond, 1 megawatt burst of infrared 1064 nanometer light. The gun took Priebe about 70 hours to build. His YouTube page offers to help others wanting to build their own laser gun.
SAFETY NOTE: Because the laser emits an invisible pulse, it would not be a visual interference hazard to aircraft (e.g., it could not cause glare or flashblindness). At close range the Q-switched pulse would definitely be an eye hazard, causing an explosive steam “pop” on the retina rather than the relatively slow burn of a continuous-wave laser. LaserPointerSafety.com has not done an analysis to determine the “safe” distance, beyond which it would not pose an eye hazard to pilots or others.
From Dvice.com and Hacked Gadgets forum
FAA spokesperson Laura Brown told LaserPointerSafety.com that in roughly 90% of the reports, the cockpit and/or pilot was illuminated by the laser. (In the other 10%, a beam was seen outside the aircraft but light did not enter the cockpit.) As far as injury reports, Brown said that these were “fairly rare”.
The FAA’s press release listed the top 20 affected airports, with Los Angeles International Airport topping the chart with 102 “laser events” in 2010. LaserPointerSafety.com has further analyzed the airport data to show that for these top 20 airports, an event occurred once every 7,000 takeoffs and and landings; the analysis is here.
According to the press release, “[t]he increase in reports is likely due to a number of factors, including the availability of inexpensive laser devices on the Internet; higher power levels that enable lasers to hit aircraft at higher altitudes; increased pilot reporting of laser strikes; and the introduction of green lasers, which are more easily seen than red lasers.”
The FAA released the photo above, illustrating what a direct laser illumination of a cockpit can look like.
Click to read more...
To read the full FAA press release, and see the list of 20 most affected airports, click the “Read More...” text below. In addition, updated statistics for the current year are here.
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 press release summarizing the issue
- 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.
WARNING: DO NOT SHINE YOUR LASER AT AN AIRCRAFT
Shooting a laser at an aircraft is considered a felony in the U.S.
The new label is being introduced in September 2009 by Wicked Lasers. They have a significant presence on the Internet, marketing a wide range of lasers for pointing, burning/cutting, and general purpose uses.
FDA is especially concerned about laser pointers above 5 mW, and about aircraft incidents. “In 2008, pilots reported a total of 950 cases of laser light striking an aircraft or illuminating a cockpit....The distraction from flash blindness could cause a serious accident.”
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1: Police helicopter is targeted by laser pointer on the ground. 2: Helicopter crew use Laser Event Recorder to locate pointer via GPS, and record its wavelength. 3: GPS details enable helicopter’s thermal (infrared) camera to find suspect, and send police patrol on the ground to arrest the person.
In addition, the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority is planning new laws prohibiting shining a laser at an aircraft. Currently, prosecutors have to prove that the laser user “recklessly or negligently endangered an aircraft”.”
BBC quotes Bob Jones, head of flight operations at the CAA: “"To those individuals targeting aircraft with laser devices the message is clear -- don't. You will be caught and you will be prosecuted and you could spend up to five years in prison. These things are not toys, they pose a serious risk to all flight safety."
Many more details, including photos and a video of a helicopter finding a laser perpetrator, are at the BBC News website.