A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

Worldwide: 3D printing creates mechanical "laser show" using a pointer

Software engineer Evan Stanford created a mechanical “laser show” using 3D-printed gears, cams and supports.

It works by putting a standard pen-type laser pointer between two cams. Cranking a handle turns the cams which bounce the laser pointer up/down and left/right to create projected patterns:

Evan Stanford mechanical laser show 01


By using different cam shapes, different patterns can be projected:

Evan Stanford mechanical laser show cams

Instructions and plans are available online, including Thingiverse 3D printing files.

Stanford noted “At this point I think it is unlikely I will continue the project. But if I did, here’s what I could do:” He then listed adding blinds to make discontinuous patterns, making the device motor driven, and adding a web service to make it easier to create new cam patterns.

From Evan Stanford’s Hackaday.io page, posted in mid-June 2017

Worldwide: Star Wars drones feature aerial laser battles

Quadcopters shaped like Star Wars vehicles, which have lasers for aerial combat, are set to be sold in Europe, the Middle East and Africa in September 2016, with release in North America scheduled for later in the year.

The “Star Wars Battle Quads” can move at speeds of 40-50 mph, and have clear propellers on the bottom to help maintain the illusion of a Millennium Falcon, X-Wing, TIE fighter or speeder bike flying on its own.

According to the manufacturer, Propel, up to 24 drones can have a laser battle simultaneously. A publicity photo shows laser beams clearly visible in a smoky environment:

Propel Star Wars lasers 01

Below is a freeze-frame from a Propel video that shows the drones (upper left corner) flying in a public demonstration. The circles show where the laser beams are shooting onto an audience.

Propel Star Wars lasers 02

According to the Verge, “When a ship is hit by a laser from an opposing ship, its paired controller … shakes in the pilot’s hands. After three direct hits, the drone will slowly spiral to the ground the game is over. Although the prototypes weren’t ready for one of these battles when we saw them, the lasers alone were pretty striking.”

The caption of this photo from the Verge states that the lasers are “Around the strength of a laser pointer.” Empire vehicles have green lasers, Rebellion vehicles have red.

Propel Star Wars laser 03


The cost is reported to be between $200-$400.

From Wired, Engadget and the Verge. Freeze-frame from a video in a PC Mag article.

US: UPDATED - FDA reminds consumers of laser pointer hazards

On December 22 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a “Safety Communication” press release warning parents, consumers and health care workers about the risks of handheld laser pointers.

This is an update to a similar warning issued December 16 2010. It contains more specific guidance about how to tell whether a handheld pointer may be over the U.S. limit of 5 mW for a laser sold as a “pointer” or for pointing purposes.

Also, the 2015 version includes details about how to report potential laser injuries to FDA’s MedWatch medical device reporting system, and what information to include in the MedWatch report.

The full text of the FDA Safety Communication is below; click the “Read More…” link.

From U.S. FDA: December 22 2015 safety communication, and December 16 2010 safety notification

UPDATED February 19 2015 — The FDA also produced a video, entitled “Laser Pointer Safety”. The 3 1/2 minute presentation shows some of the hazards of laser pointers. It also gives recommendations on how to select and safely use laser pointers. From the FDA’s YouTube channel.Click to read more...

US: Hobbyist builds 40 watt laser "shotgun"

A hobbyist posted a YouTube video on June 7 2015, showing a homemade laser “shotgun” that emits a 40 watt visible light beam capable of burning materials almost instantly.

styropyro 40 watt 40W laser shotgun

The hobbyist, with the username “styropyro,” wrote on YouTube: “Just finished building my 40W(!!!) laser shotgun!!! The output of this laser is complete insanity, and is made up of 8 parallel 5W laser beams totaling to 40W. The parallel beams are manipulated with lenses, sort of like how a choke modifies the spread of a shotgun blast. The massive diode array is powered by a huge lithium polymer battery pack (capable up dumping 250A) and the laser array is regulated by a whopping 24 LM317 drivers. This is definitely the craziest thing I have ever built, but I hope to beat this invention with something even crazier before too long.”

In the video narration, he said “I just built something so crazy that I’m almost afraid to use it” and “There is no, no good reason for anybody to own something this powerful. But because it wasn’t illegal for me to build, I decided to build it anyway.” The video then goes on to show the beam popping balloons, and burning paper, a ping-pong ball, and other materials.



Styropyro had previously posted other videos with titles such as “Homemade Lightsaber!?! MASSIVE 3W Handheld Laser Torching Stuff!!”, “My Homemade 6W Laser Sword!!!” and “Homemade Death Ray Laser DRONE BOT!!! Remote Controlled!!!”

From Gizmodo. Thanks to Patrick Daniel Murphy for bringing this to our attention via Reddit.

Northern Ireland: PHA warns against buying laser pointers as children's Christmas presents

The Northern Ireland Public Health Agency issued a warning to parents about the dangers of laser pointers to children’s eyes. According to the Belfast Telegraph, PHA spoke out after the devices left a number of children with eye damage over recent months.

Eibhlin McLoone, a consultant ophthalmologist with the Belfast HSC Trust, has treated several of the children and said the devices "are not toys".

"Sadly, I have seen children who have eye damage because they have played with a laser pointer and unfortunately once the eye has been damaged by a laser pen the damage is irreversible," she said.

"Due to the risk of permanent visual impairment, it is vital that the public is aware of the risks associated with laser pointers and that these devices are never viewed as toys."

Ms McLoone added: "Unfortunately, once the laser burn has happened there is no treatment available to reverse it."

From the Belfast Telegraph

US: FDA issues guidance on lasers in toys; wants Class 1 only

On December 19 2014, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a non-binding, not-legally-enforceable guidance document, recommending that toys which contain lasers should be limited to Class 1 output. For visible lasers, this is 0.39 milliwatts, roughly 1/3 times less bright than the Class 2 limit of 1 mW. (Many countries limit laser pointers to Class 2 or no more than 1 mW; the U.S. allows pointers up to 5 mW, or Class 3R.)

In addition to toys with visible beams that are dimmer than laser pointers, the other type of children’s Class 1 laser products are those that have internal, inaccessible lasers. For example, the laser inside a CD or DVD player device is often Class 3B — well above 5 mW. But because the beam cannot be accessed under normal conditions, the entire device is Class 1.

What laser toy products are included


FDA’s guidance is for “children’s toy laser products”, defined by the agency as “a product primarily used as a toy that is manufactured, designed, intended or promoted for novelty or visual entertainment use by children under 14 years of age.” It does not include “laser products that are used in professional or academic settings that may be used by children (for example, laser printers, CD players, educational and science kits).”

To determine if a laser product is a toy, FDA takes into account factors such as the promotion and product graphics (for example, if children are shown playing with the product), the location of sales such as toy stores or websites, and whether features or the nature of the product may indicate it is intended for children.

The agency gives examples of children’s toy laser products:

  • Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming”
  • Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin
  • Hand-held lasers used during play as “light sabers”
  • Dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column with bright colors or pictures on the box that might appeal to children
  • Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room with bright colors or pictures on the box that might appeal to children.
Click to read more...

Worldwide: Review of laser "stars" projector; question about aircraft interference

An August 22 2014 review on “the Gadgeteer” website describes a holographic laser “star” projector. This projects colored dots in an area roughly 25’ x 25’, to give the illusion of stars indoors on a wall, or of lights in trees and bushes outdoors. The cost is between $80 and $130 depending on the seller.

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.
Click to read more...

EU: Consumer lasers to be restricted to Class 2 (1 mW) maximum within 24 months

On February 5 2014, the European Union issued a “decision ... on the safety requirements to be met by European standards for consumer laser products." The decision will severely restrict or ban European consumer access to Class 3R, 3B and 4 lasers. For lasers emitting visible beams, this would restrict or ban consumer laser products with an output 1 milliwatt or greater.

(For reference, the full title of the 5 Feb 2014 document is 2014/59/EU: Commission Decision of 5 February 2014 on the safety requirements to be met by European standards for consumer laser products pursuant to Directive 2001/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on general product safety Text with EEA relevance. The document is online here.)

Timeframe and who is affected

The EU decision does not appear to directly affect laser product sales or access at this time (early 2014). Instead, it applies to European safety standards "pursuant to Directive 2001/95/EC”, the General Product Safety Directive. These standards would need to be updated to conform with the 5 Feb 2014 EC decision. The expected time is about 24 months.

A member of the IEC Technical Committee 76, the group which sets laser equipment safety standards, told LaserPointerSafety.com that "the standardization organizations are about to be requested to produce a new standard or amend an existing one, implementing/specifying such new requirements. The deadline for an amended or new standard seems to be within 24 months…. For now, it seems that the General Product Safety Directive, the Low Voltage Directive, and the Radio & Telecommunications Terminal Equipment Directive are the targeted ones.”

Once one or more standards are updated to meet the requirements of the 5 Feb 2014 EU decision, the new requirements would then be legally enforceable in the European Union.
Click to read more...

US: Famous DJ explains why he had to have a 2 watt laser pointer

Avicii, a 24-year-old Swedish DJ and record producer, who was ranked #3 in the 2012 and 2013 “Top 100 DJ’s” poll of DJ magazine, purchased a 2 watt, $1,500 laser for recreational use. He discussed this in a February 1 2014 Rolling Stone profile where the interviewer asked “What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever spent money on?”

Avicii answered “I just bought a really awesome laser pointer. It's two watts, so it's five hundred times stronger than those regular green laser pointers. If you were standing on top of the Empire State Building with it, you could see all the way to Philadelphia. It's dangerous. You can't really play with it. You need to use goggles or you could go blind. But I saw some YouTube videos where it set stuff on fire, and I was like yes. It cost $1,500. That's not too bad for such an amazing invention.”

From Rolling Stone

UK: Toy helicopters use real lasers in a dog fight

A small U.K. company, Terox Toys, has introduced toy helicopters equipped with laser pointers. The pointers appear to be on continuously as the helicopters fly. The goal is for one player’s laser to hit the other player’s helicopter, causing “damage” when the laser is detected. The first two hits cause parts to fall off; a third hit will cause the helicopter’s engines to stop.

A video showing the “AirTerminators Super Combat Helicopters” in January 2014 at the London Toy Fair shows an operator getting a brief laser hit just below his eye. The laser is said to be Class 1; if so, such a brief exposure would not be considered harmful according to safety guidelines.

However, it is not recommended for children to play with lasers. Further, it is unknown if the laser remains operational even if the helicopter is stationary or is handheld instead of free flying.

toy laser helicopter near eye
The helicopter is in the middle top of the photo. A red line can be seen just under the operator’s eye. This is the path of the laser from an opposing helicopter as it went across his face during the video frame. This can be seen at 34 seconds into a YouTube video of the demonstration.


From Pocket-Lint. The video is on YouTube.

US: Lasers being used to burn string in arcade games (to get prizes to drop)

A maker of arcade games with hanging prizes has asked operators to change the strings’ color from black or colored to white, to prevent powerful lasers being used to cut the strings.

BarBerCut Lite

Namco America sent the notice to arcade operators of BarBerCut Lite and other hanging prize type games in May 2010, after powerful handheld laser pointers became available online at relatively low cost. Namco noted that “a criminal armed with one of these can steal a number of prizes from a merchandiser in a short period of time.”

White cords and zip ties are recommended, since they reflect most of the laser’s power. In 2009, Namco changed from black and colored fasteners, which absorb the laser’s light.

From Vending Times

US: Think Geek introduces toy shark with frickin' laser on its head

A toy shark with a Class 1 (less than 1 milliwatt) laser pointer attached to its head has been developed and marketed by Think Geek. The $15 novelty item was introduced around August 8 2013 by the Internet retailer of gadgets, toys, t-shirts and other items for “geeks”. Because the laser is Class 1, it appears to comply with the FDA’s proposed new guidelines for children’s toy laser products.

Think Geek shark with laser pointer


The gadget references the Austin Powers spy spoof movies. In 1997’s International Man of Mystery, the character Dr. Evil asks for “frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads.” In 2002’s Goldmember, his son Scott actually develops the sharks:

Pic 2013-08-08 at 5.59.41 PM

From Think Geek by way of Gizmodo. See also our May 2012 story about a laser pointer attached to a (real) shark’s fin, done for publicity purposes.

US: FDA warns parents of dangers of laser toys; issues draft guidance

The Food and Drug Administration issued draft guidance for industry, and a press release for the public about the hazards of lasers in toys and used by children.

In an August 6 2013 press release and Consumer Health Information article, FDA warned parents that lasers operated unsafely can cause serious eye injuries and even blindness. FDA said injuries from lasers can go unnoticed for days or weeks since there is no pain. But vision can slowly deteriorate over time, eventually causing permanent eye damage.

FDA gave the following as examples of children’s toy laser products:

  • Lasers mounted on toy guns that can be used for “aiming”;
    • Spinning tops that project laser beams while they spin;
    • Hand held lasers used during play as “light sabers”;
    • Dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column; and
    • Lasers intended for entertainment that create optical effects in an open room.

Interestingly, the FDA’s press release and article gave tips on safe usage, including not aiming at car drivers or sports players -- but did not say that it is unsafe and illegal to aim at aircraft.

On August 7 2013, FDA issued draft guidance for industry on minimizing the risk of lasers in children’s toys. Comments are invited within 90 days of the Federal Register publication of the guidance, or by November 4 2013. The draft guidance is reprinted below.
Click to read more...

US: FDA proposes amending Federal laser manufacturer regulations

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing to amend the Federal Performance Standard for Laser Products (21 CFR 1040.10 and 1040.11). FDA says the changes are intended to 1) put U.S. standards closer to international IEC 60825 standards, 2) to help manufacturers lower costs, 3) to improve FDA’s effectiveness in regulating laser products and 4) to better protect and promote the public health.

The proposal was issued in the Federal Register on June 24 2013. The public may send comments to FDA until September 23 2013. FDA will then evaluate the comments, make any changes as a result, and at a future date will put the amendments into effect.

For consumer lasers, the most significant proposal is to create a new category of specific purpose lasers, “children’s toy laser products.” FDA says these could include lasers intended for creating entertaining optical effects, dancing laser beams projected from a stationary column, spinning tops which project laser beams, or lasers mounted on toy guns for “aiming.” FDA defines such toys as “a product that is manufactured, designed, intended or promoted for use by children under 14 years of age.”

The laser inside such a toy would be restricted to Class I (less than 1 mW for visible light). This is because FDA is concerned that if the toy were broken or disassembled, a higher power laser could harm a child.
Click to read more...

US: Man builds a replica Star Trek phaser

A story made the rounds on the Internet in late April 2012, about a “working” Star Trek phaser. It uses a blue diode inside a toy or replica phaser housing, and is shown in a video popping a balloon.

Pic 2012-05-02 at 4.19.05 AM

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

Israel: "Laser dreidel" toy's safety questioned

The Yeshiva World News issued a safety alert regarding a toy dreidel that contains a red laser diode like those used in laser pointers. The laser dreidel has flashing lights and plays music. A built-in laser diode projects a dot on the floor which becomes a circle as the dreidel is spun.

Pic 2011-12-26 at 6.17.38 PM
This dreidel projects two laser dots, creating two circles when spun (insert photo). The listing above is from the U.S. Amazon.com website.


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.
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Click to read more...