A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

General: How many laser pointers to kill a human?

The gadget website Gizmodo on October 15 2015 ran a story entitled “How Many Laser Pointers Would It Take to Kill a Human?”

Author Adam Clark Estes begins with a primer on laser light, and determines that the beams from many lasers would have to be focused on a single spot. Estes quoted Dr. Rebecca Thompson of the American Physical Society:

“…if you wanted to create a death ray with laser pointers, you could buy 200,000 laser pointers [cat-toy type with 5 milliwatt output each], mount them on a piece of a sphere with radius 5.5’, aim them all through a lens and ask your victim to sit very, very still.”

The article concludes “Do not try this at home.”

From
Gizmodo. Thanks to Roberta McHatton for bringing this to our attention.

UK: BALPA calls for high-powered lasers to be treated as offensive weapons

The British Airline Pilots’ Association called for greater regulation of lasers and drones, at a Trades Union Congress meeting in Brighton on September 14 2016.

BALPA noted that there were 1,439 reports of laser attacks in 2015, and that 55% of pilots experienced a laser attack in the past 12 months. A spokesperson said BALPA “has been campaigning for a long time for high-powered lasers to be treated as what they are — offensive weapons.”

The association was also concerned with the threat of incidents involving drones.

A motion to ask for improved regulations passed at the meeting.

From a BALPA press release

India: (Not a laser) Hundreds of severe eye injuries from government pellet shotguns

[Note: We are including this article because there has been concern that lasers used in protests against police could potentially cause eye damage. The article describes actual, serious eye damage caused by a non-laser source to hundreds of protesters. As of August 29 2016, LaserPointerSafety is unaware of any serious or permanent eye injuries from lasers used in protests, riots, and similar civil disturbances.]

From mid-July 2016 to late August 2016, more than 570 persons have gone to the main government hospital in Srinagar, Kashmir for treatment of eyes that have been damaged by “birdshot” (lead pellets) fired from shotguns into crowds by Indian security forces trying to break up protests and crowds.

An August 28 2016 New York Times article describes some of the lead pellet-caused eye injuries:

“The patients have mutilated retinas, severed optic nerves, irises seeping out like puddles of ink.”

“[A] patient’s eyelids have been stretched back with a metal clamp, so his eyeball bulges out of glistening pink tissue. The surgeon sits with his back very straight, cutting with tiny movements of his fingers. Every now and then, a thread of blood appears in the patient’s eye socket. The patient is 8 years old…. Slowly, as residents stood around him in hushed silence, the surgeon flattened out the boy’s retina, as thin and delicate as a lace doily, and used a laser to reattach it to the back of his eye.

“In most cases, it became clear, the pellets had burst into through the cornea and out through the retina, leaving little hope of fully restoring vision…. ‘Once it goes in the eye, it rotates like this, and destroys everything there inside,’ Dr. Qureshi said. ‘It’s physics. This is a high-velocity body. It releases a high amount of energy inside. The lens, the iris, the retina get matted up.’”

The author, Ellen Barry, notes that “….most countries do not use them on unarmed civilians, as the pellets spray widely and cannot be aimed…. This year, the use of pellets on Kashmiri protesters increased sharply, with the police firing more than 3,000 canisters, or upward of 1.2 million pellets, in the first 32 days of the protests, the Central Reserve Police Force has said.”

From the New York Times

US: Lockheed Martin demos laser that can burn holes in rubber boats from a mile away

Lockheed Martin’s Area Defense Anti-Munitions (ADAM) laser burned through the hull of two “military-grade” rubber boats, at a distance of one mile, in a May 2014 test in the Pacific Ocean. The laser locked onto and tracked the bobbing target, taking 30 seconds to deliver enough energy to burn through the multiple-layer rubber hull.

Lockheed Martin ADAM laser boat


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

Israel: Lasers on airplanes used to deflect missiles

Israel will begin equipping commercial aircraft with lasers to deflect incoming missiles. The C-MUSIC (Commercial MUlti-Spectral Infrared Countermeasure) system uses infrared sensors to automatically detect missiles fired towards the plane. A laser is then aimed at the missile’s navigation system to deflect it off course where it will explode and not harm the aircraft.

Elbit Systems C-Music SkyShield laser
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

Switzerland: Police want higher power laser pointers classed as weapons

A Swiss police association has called for regulation of higher power laser pointers as weapons under the Arms Act. This comes after an incident in early August 2013 where policemen at the famed Street Parade in Zurich were injured by a laser, and laser misuse against an officer in early July 2013 during a Basel demonstration.

Since 2011, laser pointers above 5 milliwatts are prohibited in Switzerland. The Swiss Federal Office of Public Health is working on proposals to classify laser pointers as weapons and will present these by 2014.

From 20 Minuten (original German text and Google-translated into English)

Worldwide: Laser weapons 10-20 years away from widespread deployment

Lasers and other directed electromagnetic weapons won’t be widely deployed until the 2022-2032 time frame, according to experts speaking at a conference on Direct Energy Systems.

One speaker noted “…we have had kinetic weapons for 500 years and laser weapons for 10-15 years…. The soldier wants a reliable, easy-to-handle, clear to understand system that has the reliability of a normal M16 rifle, or whatever, therefore the superiority is on the kinetic side.”

From Optics.org

General interest: Article discusses pros and cons of laser sights for weapons

An interesting article at Officer.com describes how laser sights can be used to enhance firearm proficiency. According to the article, laser sights help in training and simulation, allow faster target acquisition, “help minimize collateral damage, reduce tunnel vision and allow proper use of cover and/or concealment.”

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 23 with laser sight_300w
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.

From Officer.com

US: "The Straight Dope" answers the question "Should I be afraid of laser pointers?"

The syndicated newspaper column “The Straight Dope” answered a reader’s question about laser pointers as weapons: “Now more than ever, the world seems to be in need of ray guns…. What’s the holdup? Should I be scared of laser pointers?”

The answer first noted that laser weapons are large. An anti-missile laser required a Boeing 747, the Navy set fire to a boat with a destroyer-mounted laser, and a dazzler-type laser called the PHaSR is as portable “as a bag of cement.”

Then, Straight Dope purchased a 1 watt blue handheld laser (the same or similar to the Wicked Lasers Spyder III Arctic). They aimed it at room temperature pork chops and bacon. From one foot away, it took 27 seconds of continuous exposure before smoke appeared. Even with matches, it took 11 seconds to light a match from one foot away, and 15 seconds from 32 feet away.

The January 6 2012 column concluded that handheld laser ray guns are not practical: “…the likelihood that this laser would actually change somebody’s mind (other than via intimidation alone) is virtually nil…. no bad guy is going to sit still while you fry him.”

Story and photos are at the Straight Dope website. The column was also printed in the Washington City Paper.

UPDATE: In comments at the Washington City Paper, “dave b” noted that exposure to skin isn’t necessarily the important factor: “The key is to get the laser into someone’s eye.”
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US: Report says Iran blinded CIA satellite with laser

In an exclusive story, the Christian Science Monitor claimed that Iran used a laser to disable a U.S. satellite: “According to a European intelligence source, Iran shocked Western intelligence agencies in a previously unreported incident that took place sometime in the past two years [2010-2011 timeframe], when it managed to ‘blind’ a CIA spy satellite by ‘aiming a laser burst quite accurately.’ ”

This was the only laser-related information in a December 15 2011 article that was otherwise about Iran tricking a U.S. drone into landing in Iran by jamming its GPS position signals.

From the Christian Science Monitor; the laser paragraph was on page 2 of the online story. See also an October 2011 Washington Post story analyzing a politician’s claim that China blinded U.S. satellites in 2006.
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UK: BALPA wants lasers classified as weapons and banned EU-wide

The British Airline Pilots’ Association called for a ban on laser “weapons” that have contributed to over 1600 incidents thus far in 2011. The ban would be similar to ones in Australia. They also urge passage of a European Union law that would criminalize the aiming of lasers at aircraft.

From The Independent and the Daily Mail
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US: Politician says China blinded U.S. satellites with lasers

In a September 30 2011 radio interview, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann claimed that “China has blinded United States satellites with their lasers.” She is a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence and thus has access to top secret documents, although she says the information came from an “open-source document.”Click to read more...

US: UPDATED - Gun-shaped laser pointer for sale

A company is selling a gun-shaped laser pointer on the internet. The “gun” uses two AAA batteries to generate a 50 mW green beam:



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.

US: Pentagon delayed using laser dazzers in Iraq

Wired magazine reported that laser dazzler deployment was held up in Iraq for nine months due to bureaucratic red tape. The nonlethal dazzlers are small, weapons-mounted or handheld lasers that temporarily blind potential threats with pulses of green laser light.

During the U.S. phase of the Iraq war, Marine Corps leaders requested the handheld devices as a way to warn and stop drivers who were overrunning military checkpoints. Wired’s David Axe estimates that “as many as 50” Iraqi civilians were killed by gunfire -- instead of being forced off the road by dazzlers -- during the nine month delay.

There is some dispute over the safety of laser dazzlers. According to the Inspector General’s report,

Laser dazzlers provide a nonlethal capability by emitting an intense light capable of temporarily obscuring the vision of approaching individuals; however, using lasers poses a risk of serious eye injury and permanent blindness. This mode of employing a laser, shining a laser directly into the face or eyes, increases the inherent dangers of using the laser. Using nonlethal laser dazzlers would give Marine operating forces an additional capability to increase stand-off distances, safeguard civilians who venture too close to Marine positions, and help prevent unwarranted escalation of force incidences; however, DoD [Department of Defense] policy prohibits the use of lasers designed to cause permanent blindness. Operating procedures and laser safety measures are essential to ensure the safe and proper use of the lasers.


The Inspector General’s report contains additional details about the range, capabilities, safety concerns and policy issues related to military use of laser dazzlers. For example, the 1995 Protocol on Blinding Laser Weapons states that the signatories (which include the U.S.) “shall take all feasible precautions to avoid the incidence of permanent blindness to unenhanced vision.”

From
Wired.com.

NSW: Fine for possession, prison for dangerous use

New South Wales (Australia) Police Minister Judy Spence said the Bligh Government is taking strong action against the misuse of laser pointers.

Ms Spence said: “This government is committed to cracking down on these reckless and idiotic individuals, and that is why we have previously announced we are introducing new legislation regarding the possession and use of laser pointers.

“Under changes to the Weapons Act which I announced in July, following the Weapons Act Review, it will become an offence to be in possession of a laser pointer, without a reasonable explanation. Click to read more...