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December 26, 2004 11:14 AM   Subscribe

Think those new green laser pointers are pretty spiffy? Think again.
posted by squidlarkin (72 comments total)

 
Wow. 200 mW.
The whole BEAM is CLEARLY visible (not just the dot at the end of the beam like with weaker lasers).
I may be nitpicking here, but doesn't there need to be something to reflect the light? Like dust, vapour, etc... maybe this much power lets the laser visibly reflect off of water vapour in the air.

At least these aren't sold in a Wal-Mart.... yet
posted by adzm at 11:28 AM on December 26, 2004


This is not a toy. This is a vision killer. 100mW at this frequency will quite easily destroy whatever part of your retina it touches.

Read the FAQ. And, until you understand the dangers, and have the appropriate gear to keep yourself and others safe, don't even think about playing with one of these. If you don't have the patience to read Part I of the FAQ, you don't have the mental ability to use a laser like this safely.

All you need to do is wave this around, and that's when you find out there's a car parked there, and you hit the side mirror, and, wow, that was the brightest green you ever saw -- and that part of your retina will never see anything again.

This is, quite literally, in the realm of "Do not look into laser with remaining eyeball." If you don't know how to ensure that the beam, nor any reflections, will stay away from things like people's eyes, you do not want this laser. Play with a 5mW red diode or a baby HeNe until you grok.
posted by eriko at 11:29 AM on December 26, 2004


We are offering this laser for sale to responsible adults only

Well damn, guess that leaves me out. But seriously, $700? Whew. And they still charge $4 for priority shipping, heh.

Not quite sure how this thing can be so unregulated, the potential for serious fuckupery is high.

I find it amusing that the FOOD and DRUG administration has to certify this thing.
posted by edgeways at 11:34 AM on December 26, 2004


Thought 1 - as adzm said, how come the beam show up even though there doesn't appear to be dust/smoke? Is it ionizing the air?? My physics knowledge is a bit rusty, but I didn't think I'd forgotten that much...

Thought 2 - that's a long lightsaber blade!

Thought 3 - why don't the military have a whole battery of these things, the beams all at slightly different angles - point towards where your enemies are suspected to be, zap, incapacitate bad guys, saunter over and kick them.
Or perhaps the military have something even better?
posted by Chunder at 11:38 AM on December 26, 2004


this will be great for when the zombies try to take over.
posted by neckro23 at 11:40 AM on December 26, 2004


Hold on a second. The first two links to green laser pointers describe products at less than 5mW of power, not enough to zap your retinas in an instant. It's only the third one, at 100+mW that is any real danger, right? So it's not "green laser pointers" that are dangerous, it's powerful laser devices of any colour that have nothing to do with either the red or green commonly available and low-powered laser pointers. Or have I got that wrong?
posted by loquax at 11:44 AM on December 26, 2004


There are plenty of particles for light to reflect off of in our air, you just don't see it with red lasers because our eyes are not as sensitive to the color as we are to green.
posted by xmltok at 11:46 AM on December 26, 2004


What Chunder said. I was personally unaware that a laser powered by two household batteries could burn a hole in a cup from a considerable distance. Thus, I'm very surprised that the military doesn't use laser weapons already, since it seems like it wouldn't be too much of a step to increase the power to the point where it burns clothing or flesh. Maybe it isn't, and they do, and I'm just unaware of it... but I'm still surprised.
posted by odinsdream at 11:49 AM on December 26, 2004


5mW is not as dangerous, that is why they are so readily available. I still wouldn't point one in my eye for any matter of time. You don't need to use 100mW of power for a laser to be dangerous. 100mW is just a popular power because you can melt/burn things from a distance.
posted by xmltok at 11:49 AM on December 26, 2004


The Geneva Conventions prohibit the use of laser weapons, FYI.
posted by mrbill at 11:52 AM on December 26, 2004


more detail:

Protocol IV on Blinding Laser Weapons prohibits the use of laser weapons specifically designed, as their sole combat function or as one of their combat functions, to cause permanent blindness to unenhanced vision, that is to the naked eye or to the eye with corrective eyesight devices. The High Contracting Parties shall not transfer such weapons to any State or non-State entity.
posted by mrbill at 11:53 AM on December 26, 2004


chunder: incapacitate bad guy ? That's blinding them, not incapacitating. Gas em with nonlethal sleeping gas or something, that's incapacitating.
posted by elpapacito at 11:53 AM on December 26, 2004


Geneva Con-whats? - the army

Seriously that's a good thing to know. Thanks mrbill.
posted by odinsdream at 11:55 AM on December 26, 2004


I own a 50mW laser and it's cool to mess around with, but not very useful at all. The beam is about the thickness of rope but the dispersion is pretty bad. It visibly expands as it spreads out in distance. Also, you have to shut it off every 20-30 seconds or you risk melting your $500 toy.

The 5mW laser I own is much more useful. You can leave it on as long as you like, the entire beam is still clearly visible and it is actually useful for pointing stuff out. Anything as powerful as my 50mW or this guy's 100mW would be like pointing out a grain of rice with one of those #1 sign foam hands they pass out at sporting events.

And if you show up at a star party with anything greater than 5mW, let's just say you would *not* be popular.

Also, almost any 5mW laser can be increased in power many times over. But it severely hurts the battery life and the lifetime of the laser. It may last for only a few hours of actual use.
posted by b_thinky at 12:02 PM on December 26, 2004


Water vapor in the air is what scatters the beam, making it visible. As far as different laser wavelengths, UV laser light is more dangerous than visible, but the red laser is not much different form the green. However, 100 mW is still 100 millijoules/sec, no matter what the source is.
posted by c13 at 12:05 PM on December 26, 2004


The FDA is in charge of lasers because they're regulated as medical devices. Which makes sense: surgery is probably the largest civilian use of lasers, and the most useful. Not much would be gained by renaming it as the FDMDA (Food, Drug, and Medical Device Administration).
posted by rosvicl at 12:07 PM on December 26, 2004


So if it's just blinding lasers that the Geneva Convention prohibits, does that mean that any theoretical lasers in the x-ray spectrum, which would be far more lethal, are hunky dory?

I'm actually a pacifist, but high-tech weaponry fascinates me.
posted by squidlarkin at 12:26 PM on December 26, 2004


Lasers don't blind people. People blind people.

I guess these things are intended for, uh, hunting, self-defense?
posted by 327.ca at 12:30 PM on December 26, 2004


Finally...something I can mount on my sharks.
posted by RockCorpse at 1:10 PM on December 26, 2004


That third link is nothing like the first two. This is scaremongering.
posted by Sir Mildred Pierce at 1:10 PM on December 26, 2004


Can I get one of the powerful ones with a cell scanner on it so I can lock on and melt people's batteries so they drive faster in traffic?

Or can I use it to melt people's tires?

327.ca, I actually have something similar for self defense. A 1.5 million candlepower spotlight. Anyone coming up the stairs will get that in the face first. It doesn't do permanent damage, I don't think.
posted by fenriq at 1:17 PM on December 26, 2004


rosvicl said:
surgery is probably the largest civilian use of lasers
is this really true? i was under the impression that CD players use lasers. i would think CD players far outnumber surgical instruments, though i imagine the CD lasers are much weaker.
posted by dkg at 1:21 PM on December 26, 2004


327.ca, I actually have something similar for self defense. A 1.5 million candlepower spotlight. Anyone coming up the stairs will get that in the face first. It doesn't do permanent damage, I don't think.

Next time I come for supper, I'll honk in the driveway first. ;-)
posted by 327.ca at 1:22 PM on December 26, 2004


CDs and DVDs are the largest civilian uses of lasers. I think the comment was intended to be that surgery is probably the largest civilian use of lasers powerful enough to cause harm.
posted by Bugbread at 1:24 PM on December 26, 2004


That third link is nothing like the first two.

No, indeed.

That third link is nothing like the first two. This is scaremongering

Yes, indeed. Anyone treating a 100mW laser "pointer" like a 5mW laser pointer is going to have real problems.

As to laser weapons -- the best way to weaponize a laser is to put it in a sock and hit someone over the head. The defense against this laser is trivial -- basically, fancy sunglasses. Better, mirrorshades.

Green lasers are harder, per mW, on human tissue, because human tissue, esp. the retina, is mostly red. Red surfaces tend to reflect red light, and absorb green. You'll note he uses a red cup to show you the laser's power. This is quite intentional.

(You can do a trick with 5mW laser pointers, where you pop a red baloon that's inside a green ballon. The red absorbs more of the energy.)

Both, however, do engage the blink reflex. IR and UV lasers, which you can't see, don't -- this makes them even more dangerous to play with. You wave a UV laser around, get nailed by reflection, and you don't even realize that you've screwed up until your vision fades. Lasers like this need fixed, encaged beam paths to make sure you don't hit something you didn't mean to -- it's even more important as the power goes up.

Medical CO2 lasers (which are mostly IR) often have a diode laser collimated to the beam, so you aim with the low powered visible beam, then engage the CO2 laser when you've got the beam where you need it.

Light show lasers (typically Argon and Krypton gas lasers) are very much in the range of "You'll burn your eye out" -- which is why most jurisdictions require licensing, and a big part of setting them up is looking for near-feild specular reflectors, to make sure that you don't clip that and reflect a fair amount of the beam's power directly into the audience -- esp. since the bright "blink" will cause them to look right at the reflected beam. They're not dangerous with diffuse reflections, which is why they'll fire them at walls and such.

In FDA terms, these are Class IIIb lasers -- dangerous with direct exposure and specular reflection. The really high power beasts are Class IV -- even firing them at a blank wall can reflect enough energy to cause harm (or just set the wall on fire.)
posted by eriko at 1:31 PM on December 26, 2004


Why is selling this legal? From what I understand, this is far from a "cool toy".
posted by madman at 1:49 PM on December 26, 2004


Okay, I'm prepared to say that sales of this should be better regulated.
posted by darkstar at 2:03 PM on December 26, 2004


They'll get my laser from me when they pry it from my charred, dead hands.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:45 PM on December 26, 2004


I sure am glad I'm not in a band. Maybe this is why Bono always wears sunglasses.
posted by Arch Stanton at 2:52 PM on December 26, 2004


My favorite warning label EVAR:

CAUTION! Do not look into laser with remaining eye.
posted by Enron Hubbard at 3:06 PM on December 26, 2004


>squidlarkin

>So if it's just blinding lasers that the Geneva Convention
>prohibits, does that mean that any theoretical lasers in
>the x-ray spectrum, which would be far more lethal, are
>hunky dory?


Squidlarkin, the conventions are fine with directed energy weapons. It's just that their primary purpose can't be blinding people. There are reported cases of people who have been deliberately blinded or injured by the misuse of regular targeting lasers. Officially that's a no-no. In practice, who knows?
posted by Ken McE at 3:12 PM on December 26, 2004


> Thought 3 - why don't the military have a whole battery of >these things, the beams all at slightly different angles - point >towards where your enemies are suspected to be, zap, >incapacitate bad guys, saunter over and kick them.
>Or perhaps the military have something even better?

All Geneva convention comments aside, the military has been doing research on lasers for a long time. A couple non-offensive uses are for communication and as artificial guide stars for adaptive optics (google Starfire Optical Range). There's also work on firing lasers at targets to destroy them, mostly satellites or incoming ballistic missiles a la Star Wars Defense. I've also heard talk of a airplane-mounted laser.

I work on the civilian adaptive optics side, and I can point out that maintaining a sharp laser beam through any kind of turbulent medium, such as, oh say, Earth's atmosphere is incredibly difficult. Using lasers as weapons is even harder, because the optics you use to launch and fix a beam of that magnitude actually start bubbling/boiling after a very short time.
posted by onalark at 4:12 PM on December 26, 2004


Now all I need is a giant-sized Jiffy Pop and my master plan shall be complete!
posted by schoolgirl report at 4:18 PM on December 26, 2004


Might I mention that the Eastern Orthodox Christmas is January 7th by the "regular" calendar? Oh and by the way the HINT tags ain't workin'.
posted by davy at 4:53 PM on December 26, 2004


The conventions are fine with directed energy weapons. It's just that their primary purpose can't be blinding people.

But devices that have as their primary purpose shredding people's innards and blowing their limbs off is just fine. I see. I'll bet there'a a perfectly obvious rational common-sense rationale that I'm missing here too, huh; if so, could somebody please explain to me why shredding is more humane than blinding?
posted by davy at 4:59 PM on December 26, 2004


For those of you who got the obscure movie reference from schoolgirl report, here's some obscure t-shirts too.

Disclaimer: I've got no financial incentive to post this, I just think they are neato.
posted by ensign_ricky at 5:34 PM on December 26, 2004


When COULDN'T you pick up a powerful laser for $700?
These things ain't exactly going to end up at the 99cent stores like the red ones.
posted by HTuttle at 5:57 PM on December 26, 2004


When COULDN'T you pick up a powerful laser for $700?

If I had a nickel for every time I've heard that question ...
posted by krinklyfig at 6:18 PM on December 26, 2004


Davy: I've wondered that myself.

I remember seeing that about 8, 9 years ago in an issue of AF Times about the development of a laser blinding system, and the resulting condemnation of that type of weapons system. It made no sense then, it makes no sense now.

Re the Geneva accords - If it kills, that's okay. If it's intended to maim, IE arms and legs all over the place, it's damn iffy. If it blinds, that's right out. Makes perfect... ummm... well, 'sense' isn't exactly the word I'm looking for.

JB.
posted by JB71 at 6:19 PM on December 26, 2004


I'll bet there'a a perfectly obvious rational common-sense rationale that I'm missing here too, huh; if so, could somebody please explain to me why shredding is more humane than blinding?

You can't sell brightly colored textiles and wallpapers to a nation of the blind. The survivors of potentially deadly weapons, on the other hand, need all the cheering up they can get.

Or at least that's how the paranoid theory I read somewhere in Gravity's Rainbow goes...
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 6:29 PM on December 26, 2004


The point is not what the military might use these lasers for. The point is, when these things become a lot cheaper (HTuttle thinks for some reason they will not, but I don't quite follow) the dumbfucks in parking lots will blind people accidently just by playing with the damn things. You really don't have to worry about the atmospheric effects if you're only 20 feet away from one of these. As far as I know, anything above 5mW is regulated, so I have no idea how this guy is able to sell them online. I assume it's only a matter of time before he gets busted. I just hope this happens before the price falls down.
posted by c13 at 6:45 PM on December 26, 2004


I think the idea is that war should only be worth dying for. The idea being, that war is inevitable and should be constrained to the causes where death is preferable to life. I guess.

Also, caring for a nation of a million blind is really expensive.
posted by geoff. at 9:09 PM on December 26, 2004


Is there a device that can detect when someone's playing with coherent light in the general area -- e.g. register the "speckle" effect it gives off when it hits stuff? I think one day soon we're going to need audible alarms that warn us that some fucktard is playing with a laser and you need to pull over and shut your eyes until SWAT nails him.

Don't forget that the reason we have high chainlink fences around freeway overpasses is because it's been well established that pieces of offal in human shape will quite happily drop cinderblocks through the windshields of cars going 70mph, for no other reason than because they can. Well, this shit is a fuckload easier to conceal than a cinderblock and a chainlink fence isn't going to stop it. It's going to come down to deterrence. And for that, there's a biblical maxim that seems to fit.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:13 PM on December 26, 2004


George_Spiggott: Get your tin hat out.
posted by Keyser Soze at 1:11 AM on December 27, 2004


onalark:- ... non-offensive uses ...as artificial guide stars for adaptive optics

Is there any way this could be used for amateur astronomers, or is the technology simply too expensive?
posted by Meridian at 1:17 AM on December 27, 2004


Who let all these adults in?
diy lightshow
discount price.
posted by pekar wood at 4:50 AM on December 27, 2004


But devices that have as their primary purpose shredding people's innards and blowing their limbs off is just fine. I see. I'll bet there'a a perfectly obvious rational common-sense rationale that I'm missing here too, huh; if so, could somebody please explain to me why shredding is more humane than blinding?

less expensive to kill someone than have to take care of them. so lethal = good, intentionally crippling = bad.
posted by canned polar bear at 6:28 AM on December 27, 2004


Keyser, that's very clever. Did you make that up yourself? A tin hat, BTW, wouldn't have helped any of these people. There isn't the slightest doubt that before these things hit the sub-$100 range there'll be incidents with them.
posted by George_Spiggott at 6:34 AM on December 27, 2004


This is perhaps the best example I've ever seen of "just because something CAN be produced doesn't mean it SHOULD be produced".

And this is precisely why the free market fails in the long run.

Note that a strong market theorist would immediately note that this would merely create demand for laser-proof sunglasses.

I hate this world sometimes.

Why don't they just cut to the chase and call this a "legal blinding machine". The home-defense wackos would be all over this at $1000 a pop.

For the physicists out there, would this still blind you at 100 yards? 1 mile? 2 miles? Or do you have to be very near it to suffer damage?

(Note, for those who jump to conclusions, I am only talking about the third link. I can't help but think this fell through the regulatory cracks so to speak.)
posted by Ynoxas at 8:10 AM on December 27, 2004


This takes me back to my very first concert back in 76. Blue Oyster Cult used red and green lasers extensively in their light show. I had never seen one before and I must say it was pretty impressive to my 16 year old eyes. At one point in the show, three lasers were focused on 3 different rotating mirror balls. The result was extremely cool, but in hindsight, probably quite dangerous as well. All the other laser shows I saw after that used lasers that were fixed, or at least not pointed at the audience. Ahhh, the 70s.
posted by reidfleming at 8:36 AM on December 27, 2004


Wait, why is this not cool again?
posted by rushmc at 9:02 AM on December 27, 2004


Meridian: this laser could not be used for astonomy. The beam is simply too large and bright to point out a single star. Also, it would be so bright to obscure parts of the sky from your eyes. Not cool. If you want a 5mW laser for amateur astronomy, you can just Google "green laser" and there should be plenty of offerings there.
posted by b_thinky at 9:53 AM on December 27, 2004


RE: Cinderblock, windshield, highway:

In New England, probably Massachusetts, a group of kids dropped a frozen turkey off an overpass around Thanksgiving. The woman in the car just got out of the hospital, but she isn't doing well. This stuff is still going on.
posted by crazy finger at 10:35 AM on December 27, 2004


Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good 100mW green laser at your side.
posted by bingo at 10:55 AM on December 27, 2004


That dual mirror lightshow trick is pretty hip.

Hmm. Use a standing mirror on one, for the X axis. Use the mirror flat as the Y axis. Drive one from the left, one from the right. Hmmm.

Must get to basement and commence to hacking -- with a 3mW HeNe laser, of course. I like my eyes.
posted by eriko at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2004


George_Spiggott: Get your tin hat out.

A reflective aluminum hat is much more useful.

At one point in the show, three lasers were focused on 3 different rotating mirror balls. The result was extremely cool, but in hindsight, probably quite dangerous as well. All the other laser shows I saw after that used lasers that were fixed, or at least not pointed at the audience.

At least at laser shows here in Japan, mirrorballing lasers and projecting patterns with them into the crowd is still very common. As has been pointed out above, it's not that "lasers cause eye damage", it's that "high powered lasers cause eye damage". In a darkened and smoky club, it doesn't take a ton of laser power to create a good effect.

As the third link points out, just looking at the dot it projects on a wall hurts your eyes. Definitely a different calibre of light than the standard light show light.
posted by Bugbread at 11:43 AM on December 27, 2004


Wait, why is this not cool again?

Totally! I mean, blah blah war, blah blah permanent incapacitation, but c'mon! Lasers!

No, seriously, I'm glad this sparked some interesting discussion. I think I shall like it here.
posted by squidlarkin at 1:16 PM on December 27, 2004


In 2003 the Air Force began testing a weapon with a range measured in hundreds of miles, accuracy measured in inches, a flight time measured in fractions of a second, and uses enough hydrogen peroxide with each shot to give every man and woman serving in the military blonde highlights.

Reach out and fry someone: The Air Force and Boeing's airborne laser.
posted by just a monkey at 7:00 PM on December 27, 2004




Hah, Phillip Torrone bought one. It really does burn through the cup.
posted by tomharpel at 10:41 AM on December 28, 2004


We are offering this laser for sale to responsible adults only

Cut the crap, Kent! You've created a weapon.
posted by bitmage at 1:29 PM on December 28, 2004


Dude, Slashdot stole your post. That's some verra similar wording right there, that is.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 1:34 PM on December 28, 2004


Metafilter to Slashdot lag: 2 days, 1 hour, 31 minutes.

Please nobody whine on SlashDot about this being posted here first (or second, whatever, before /. ), 'cause all that will do is even further increase the newbie noise in these here parts. MeTa's busy enough as it is.
posted by intermod at 1:53 PM on December 28, 2004


Actually the post's a natural for slashdot and it fits on both sites, so that's fine by me. I just found it interesting how similar the wording of the slashdot post was...
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 3:04 PM on December 28, 2004


Me too.
posted by squidlarkin at 3:37 PM on December 28, 2004


"There is a 2 second delay after you click the "on" button before the laser will produce a beam."

just long enough to make someone think its not working and decide to check if something is blocking the 'barrel'?
posted by xxiii at 1:36 AM on December 29, 2004


As usual, much ado from our fascist overlords about nothing ... it's actually fairly common, especially in glitzy places like Las Vegas.

I refer you to NTSB report LAX96IA032, about an incident aboard a Southwest 737-5H4 at Las Vegas:
'The aircraft was climbing through about 4,500 feet agl on a standard instrument departure route when the first officer, who was the flying pilot, said a laser beam swept past the cockpit and he immediately experienced eye pain and was completely blinded in the right eye. After image effects also induced a blind condition in his left eye. He said the total inability to see lasted 30 seconds, and for an additional 2 minutes, he could not focus on or interpret any instrument indications and was completely disoriented in his spatial relationship to the vertical. The captain was not irradiated by the beam and assumed control of the aircraft and continued the climb. Many of the larger hotels in Las Vegas have some sort of outdoor laser light show. Most of these installations have both fixed/stationary (static) beams of relatively high power and 'dancing' beams of lower power which flash about the sky in irregular patterns. ... The source of the laser could not be established with certainty. Fifty-one prior incidents of laser irradiations to pilots have been recorded by the Las Vegas air traffic facility over the past 2 years.'
[Emphasis mine.]
52 incidents of pilot laser irradiations between 1993 and 95. But suddenly it's freaky-deaky from the news and gummint this week. Interesting.

As for chickens and jet engines, well, it's probably apocraphyl since it's been spread around the web so often, but there's the story of NASA loaning British railway engineers its chicken cannon, which shoots dead birds at high velocities at aircraft windows and engines to ... well, see what happens. The engineers used it to test a high-speed locomotive and were rather astonished to see the chicken punch through the cab and create rather a mess. They e-mailed NASA with a question or two and NASA told them to 'thaw the chicken out first next time.' Yeesh.
posted by AirBeagle at 8:26 AM on December 30, 2004


Actually, many apologies ... I posted the above in the wrong thread ... too many windows open.
posted by AirBeagle at 8:42 AM on December 30, 2004


Meridian: A bit of a delayed reply but there's no real sense in using an artificial laser guide star (i.e. a laser pointed at the sky) for amateur adaptive optics. The cost of a laser powerful enough to create Rayleigh backscatter or tuned to the sodium layer of the atmosphere is prohibitive enough, plus the benefits for an amateur mirror are fairly minimal. On the Other Hand, I do believe amateur ao units that rely on natural guide stars (i.e. fairly bright stars in the sky) exist, and provide low-order correction.
posted by onalark at 2:39 AM on December 31, 2004


Slightly delayed response, but check out what link 3 now says.
posted by Bugbread at 12:30 PM on January 1, 2005


Yet another incident...
posted by VulcanMike at 10:22 AM on January 3, 2005


Slightly delayed response, but check out what link 3 now says.
posted by bugbread at 2:30 PM CST on January 1


Wow. Internet action. Whowouldathunkit?
posted by Ynoxas at 1:38 PM on January 7, 2005


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