A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

UK: New UK law provides stronger penalties, easier prosecution for aiming a laser at a vehicle

On May 10 2018, the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act gained Royal Assent. The new law makes it an an offense to shine or direct a laser beam towards a vehicle which dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract the person with control of the vehicle. The law applies to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The penalties for violations is up to five years imprisonment and an unlimited fine; these penalties take effect starting July 10 2018.

The law applies to laser beams aimed at aircraft, motor vehicles, trains, ships, hovercraft and other vehicles. A vehicle does not have to be moving at the time of offense; if the engine or motor is running then the law applies. Another provision makes it an offense to shine or direct a laser beam towards an air traffic facility, or a person providing air traffic services, under the condition where the beam dazzles or distracts, or is likely to dazzle or distract a person providing air traffic services.

The offense is a strict liability offense, meaning that prosecutors do not need to prove that the person shining the laser intended to endanger the vehicle or air traffic facility/controller. There are two defenses allowed: 1) the person had a reasonable excuse for shining the laser beam, or 2) the person did not intend to shine a laser at the vehicle/ATF/controller and exercised all due diligence to avoid doing so.

According to The Register, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) “has led the charge for stricter laws on laser abuse for many years.”

COMPARING U.S. AND U.K.

Since the U.K. peak of 2,278 incidents in 2011 (U.K. home + overseas), the number of illuminations has dropped 46% to 1,232 in 2017. It is unknown what factors may have caused the drop.

By comparison, the U.S. rate of reported illuminations rose 88% over the same period, from 3,591 incidents in 2011 to 6,753 in 2017. Again, it is unknown what caused the rise, and especially the almost-doubling from 3,894 in 2014 to 7,703 in 2015.

UK laser incidents 2009-2017 600w

From The Register, UK government legislation website, December 20 2017 UK Department of Transport press release, CAA laser incidents data, and LaserPointerSafety.com statistics. Previous LaserPointerSafety.com reporting on the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Act is here.

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US: Air Force wants 38,000 more laser eye protection glasses and visors

The U.S. Air Force on May 2 2018 issued a revised draft request for proposal (RFP), for 38,000 laser eye protection glasses and visors for aircrews.

While the original draft RFP was published for comments on March 27 2018, the revised request takes on additional urgency after the Pentagon on May 3 2018 accused China of aiming lasers at aircraft flying from a U.S. airbase in Djibouti. According to the Pentagon, two pilots had minor, short-term injuries as a result. The next day, China denied using lasers against aircraft in Dijibouti, calling them “groundless accusations.”

The current provider of the Air Force’s laser protection is Teledyne Scientific & Imaging, which was awarded a $30.1 million contract in July 2016 for 11.805 Aircrew Laser Eye Protection (ALEP) Block 2 glasses. The May 2 2018 RFP is for Block 3 glasses and visors. and will provide protection both during the day and at night from laser light.

The RFP’s Requirements Matrix does not specify the exact wavelengths to be blocked. It does say that the night version must have at least 50% visibility (Photopic Luminous Transmittance) and at least 14% for day versions. The document also states:

The ALEP Block 3 will not impair visual performance to the extent that it interferes with safety of flight or mission completion. The device will be visually compatible with the following devices/activities:
  • All USAF aircraft
  • Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS); Night Vision Goggles (NVG); Panoramic Night Vision Goggles (PNVG), Helmet Mounted Integrated Targeting (HMIT/HoBiT), and fielded/post- Milestone B visors and aircrew chemical warfare masks
  • Canopies/windscreens, HUD, and color cockpit displays
  • Detection, recognition, identification, and tracking of targets
  • Ability to distinguish terrain colors and geographical features
  • Cockpit interior lighting, external aircraft lights, and airfield lights
  • Ability to read charts, maps, and other printed materials in the cockpit
  • Ability to perform normal aircraft duties in cockpit

From Jane’s 360 and the Air Force Aircrew Laser Eye Protection Block 3 IDIQ Draft RFP. When navigating the FRP webpage, note that there is the Original Synopsis dated March 27 2018 and the “Changed” version dated May 2 2018. There may be subsequent versions as well. The Statement of Work and the Requirements Matrix are the primary documents in the RFP.

Ukraine: Developing countermeasures after 4 cases of laser eye injury

The State Border Guard Service of Ukraine will find countermeasures against Russian laser weapons, Interior Minister of Ukraine Arsen Avakov said, according to a May 5 2018 Interfax-Ukraine report.

“We already had several such cases (a laser injury of the eye retina) in the State Border Guard Service and in the National Guard. We are now developing countermeasures. We do not fully understand what they use, but we are already working on the instructions what it could be. We will install the appropriate filters, devices, use appropriate glasses,” Avakov said.

He reported on four cases of the laser injury of border guards and national guardsmen.

“The use of such weapons is a barbarous situation. We will discuss it at the international level,” Avakov emphasized.

From Kyiv Post

Canada: CDN $3M loan to MTI to manufacture laser eye protection glasses

The Canadian federal government has provided a CDN $3M loan to Metamaterial Technologies Inc. of Halifax, to manufacture laser protection eyewear in large quantities.

The company’s metaAIR eyewear uses holographic technology to reflect unwanted wavelengths of light while passing others. According to MTI founder and CEO George Palikaras, the clear glasses do not affect vision like current solutions that can be too dark or affect colors.

“What is innovative in our eyewear is that it does not affect the pilot’s vision. So when you put them on you can still see that green is green, blue is blue and red is red,” Palikaras said at a May 4 2018 press conference. In the photo below, Palikaras is wearing the glasses, which reflect some wavelengths but otherwise appear clear to the wearer.

MTI Palikaras glasses 01

The glasses’ ability to reflect unwanted wavelengths were demonstrated by blocking 99.9% of the green light from a handheld Class 4 (> 500 milliwatts) 532 nanometer laser:

MTI laser glasses 01

Palikaras said that besides pilots, MTI has had inquiries from the navy and from train operators. He cited incidents involving trains in Germany and Switzerland.

He said the glasses will be sold through MTI’s partner companies and directly to industry buyers.

As of May 2018, MTI has 27 employees, and is looking to hire 15 new full-time employees in production, marketing, research and development. MTI’s holographic technology is also used in developing aircraft windscreens with laser glare protection.

The $3M loan was provided by the Atlantic Canadian Opportunities Agency.

From the Chronicle Herald

Scotland: Scientists develop way to shoot laser light from eyes

Researchers have developed a membrane-thin laser emitter, widely reported in the press with headlines such as “Scientists Create Superman-like Eye Lasers.” When pumped by outside light, the membrane re-emits spectrally pure laser light.

The team from the University of St. Andrews demonstrated the new technology by putting a membrane laser onto a standard contact lens (photo a below), then placing this on a cow’s eye (photos b and c). A cow’s eye is similar to human eyes and is widely available as a byproduct of meat processing. The researchers then illuminated the eye with safe pulsed blue light (“Pump” in photo d) and “observed a well-defined green laser beam emerging from the eye” (“Far field emission” in photo d).

Pic 2018-05-04 at 10.18.16 AM

The diagram below shows the narrow wavelength of the emitted light (emission power on the left-hand scale is in “arbitrary units”).

Pic 2018-05-04 at 10.22.27 AM


The pump light minimum fluence to cause lasing was 58,800 W/cm², which is about one order of magnitude less than the maximum power density permitted by the ANSI 2000 standard for intentional and repeated ocular exposure. The researchers state that “a membrane laser on a contact lens could thus—under appropriate pumping conditions—be safely operated while being worn in the eye.”

Applications of the membrane laser include use as a security device affixed to banknotes or the human body (researchers also put a laser on a fingernail). A pumping beam is shone onto the substrate (banknote, eye, fingernail) to see if laser light of the expected wavelength is emitted. In the future, “[f]urther optimization of the DFB grating will likely allow lower lasing thresholds and facilitate LED pumping of membrane lasers. By combining recently developed roll-to-roll nanoimprint and organic ink jet printing technology, membrane lasers could be mass-produced with high reproducibility and at low cost.”

The researchers’ paper received widespread publicity, often with photos such as the one below. However, one of the authors, Prof. Malte Gather told the Express, “When we thought about this idea of making the laser membrane, someone suggested it was the first step towards making Superman real. It was meant as a joke but I thought it could be serious after all in certain applications. What is important for a normal human – not being Superman – is that our lasers are extremely efficient and hence can emit laser light that is not very bright. That excludes it from being used as a weapon but means that you could put it on to your eye without blinding yourself.”

Superman lasers eyes 2


From Nature Communications, volume 9, Article number: 1525 (2018), doi:10.1038/s41467-018-03874-w, available online here. Press release from University of St. Andrews. Typical popular press stories from U.S. News, USA Today, and the Express. A more detailed, science-oriented summary and discussion is from Optics and Photonics.

UK: Terror suspect said to tell ISIS sympathizers how to use lasers to bring down an aircraft

A man was charged with five counts of terrorist-related crimes, including sending links to a person which included information on how to shoot down an aircraft with a laser.

Rashid was also alleged to have encouraged ISIS supporters to commit terrorism against 4-year-old Prince George (son of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge), against a New York City halloween parade, and against the Burmese ambassador to the U.K.

Husnain Rashid, 32, of Nelson, Lancashire, pleaded not guilty to the charges on April 30 2018. Trial was set for May 14 2018.

From the Express

India: Laser show attacked as "insult to Lord Shiva"

A “laser” show projected onto a Hindu temple has raised the ire of the “Congress” party which opposes the government of Uttarakhand state in India. The show depicts the story of Shiva, one of the main deities of Hinduism.

In an April 28 2018 news story, a Congress party leader said the April 29 - May 4 show on Kedarnath Temple is an insult to Lord Shiva and his devotees.

The 25-minute show is privately funded by the Akshar Travels group of companies, in part to attract visitors and pilgrims to the temple, which is so old its builders and date of construction are not known.

From a YouTube video of the show, it appears there are no lasers used. Instead, the show consists of video projected onto the temple plus narrow lights similar to spotlights or the Clay Paky “Sharpy” moving beam light. The video projector’s light source could possibly be from lasers but even then it is not a “laser show” by the conventional definition of a show using laser beams and/or cartoon-like simple outline graphics.

Kedarnath Laser Light Show,, Char Dham Yatra - Adi Anant Shiv

From The Statesman and the Pioneer

New Zealand: Pilots want high-powered laser pointers banned

The New Zealand Air Line Pilots' Association (NZALPA) is calling for a total ban on high-powered laser pointers after recent laser attacks which pilots described as "the most terrifying thing they've ever gone through".

The April 18 2018 call for prohibition follows two recent reported incidents:

  • On April 12 an Air New Zealand plane was hit by a laser strike near Kerikeri Airport at about 6:10 am, just after taking off
  • On April 15 there was a laser illumination of a Mount Cook Airline plane flying over the Canterbury town of Rolleston

There were approximately 169 laser/aircraft incidents in 2017, according to the Civil Aviation Authority.

NZALPA news from the New Zealand Herald, details on Kerikeri incident from Stuff Travel, details on Rolleston incident from The Press. Click the “read more” link for additional details in the NZALPA April 18 2018 press release.

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US: $8 billion space telescope aligned for shipping with $70 hardware store lasers

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is a $8.8 billion dollar satellite weighing 7 tons. When it came time to transport the telescope, a special 165,000 shipping container was built to be airlifted by a modified Air Force C-5C airplane.

The container was 100 feet long and had to fit with a clearance of about six inches on each side.

In testing the container’s fit in the C-5C, engineers originally used cameras to line up the container within 1/2 inch of the aircraft centerline. However, the camera method did not work in practice.

So lead project engineer John Andersen suggested using laser guides from a local home repair store. One laser would shine along the centerline of the floor, the other would mark the centerline of the back of the shipping container. As Anderson explained, “So, for about $70, we bought the laser guides, set them up, and we were able to load the container perfectly by following the laser lines.”

He added, “I’m glad we came up with a cheap solution to load the container on the aircraft using the lasers. It didn’t cost thousands of dollars to do it or a lot of time.”

The space telescope is scheduled to be launched from French Guiana in 2019.

From the Dayton Daily News

US: Coast Guard evaluating laser strike protection for cockpit use

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center (RDC) is nearing completion of a market research project “to identify viable laser eye protection solutions for integration into Coast Guard aircraft.”

The Coast Guard cannot use standard laser eye protection, such as is used in laboratories and industry, because it blocks too much light. One of the options the RDC is looking at is “a flexible optical filter that is reflective of lasers only and has just a slight tint, so it doesn’t interfere with the pilot’s visibility. The material can be applied to any transparent surface, such as the cockpit windshield, to deflect harmful laser beams and prevent them from reaching the inside of the cockpit.”

The chief of the Coast Guard’s Safety Program Management Division indicated eyewear or visors would be short-term solutions, and laser protective coatings for the aircraft would be a long-term solution.

According to Coast Guard information, “[o]nce finalized, the RDC findings will be integrated into an ongoing laser eye protection project the Office of Safety and Environmental Health is conducting in partnership with the Naval Aeromedical Research University in Dayton, Ohio, and the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.”

From a February 21 2018 blog post from the U.S. Coast Guard. Click the “Read more” link for the full blog text. Thanks to George Palikaras for bringing this to our attention.
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Canada: Looking at "all possible options" to fight laser incidents; perhaps a ban and mandatory labels

Minister Marc Garneau announced February 15 2018 that Transport Canada will explore “all possible options” to reduce the number of laser pointer/aircraft incidents, and will announce measures “in the coming weeks.”

The statement came after six laser incidents over two days earlier in the month, at Montreal’s Trudeau Airport. Garneau said these made him “very, very mad.”

A Transport official said the options include a ban on importation of powerful lasers, mandatory warning labels, and stronger penalties for those who are caught.

Garneau noted that it is hard to catch a laser perpetrator, making prosecutions “few and far between”. He believes that some people are not aware of the bright-light danger of laser light, but that others “know darn well what they’re doing” and are trying to “provoke something.”

Transport Canada currently has a program called “Not-a-Bright-Idea,” trying to educate the general public about the risks and legal consequences of aiming lasers at aircraft. Since implementing the program in May 2016, laser incident numbers have dropped. There were 590 reported incidents in 2015, 527 in 2016, and 379 in 2017.

Garneau said that despite the 28 percent drop, Transport Canada must do more, and that is why they are exploring other options.

From 660 News and AVweb

Note: In response to a LaserPointerSafety.com request, an email address for interested persons was provided: “Transport Canada is exploring options to reduce laser strikes. Canadians and industry members can provide information to the Civil Aviation Communications Centre by emailing: services@tc.gc.ca

Germany: Scientific study of laser pointer eye injuries finds 111 cases

The following abstract is from “Retinal Injury Following Laser Pointer Exposure: A Systematic Review and Case Series”, by Birtel et. al., in Deutsches Aerzteblatt International 2017; 114(49). The entire paper is worth reading for anyone interested in laser pointer injury numbers, causes, severity and treatment.


Background: Recent years have seen a marked increase in laser-pointer-related injuries, which sometimes involve severe retinal damage and irreversible visual impairment. These injuries are often caused by untested or incorrectly classified devices that are freely available over the Internet.

Methods: We reviewed pertinent publications retrieved by a systematic search in the PubMed and Web of Science databases and present our own series of clinical cases.

Results: We identified 48 publications describing a total of 111 patients in whom both acute and permanent damage due to laser pointers was documented. The spectrum of damage ranged from focal photoreceptor defects to macular foramina and retinal hemorrhages associated with loss of visual acuity and central scotoma. On initial presentation, the best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) was less than 20/40 (Snellen equivalent) in 55% of the affected eyes and 20/20 or better in 9% of the affected eyes. Treatment options after laser-pointer-induced ocular trauma are limited. Macular foramina and extensive hemorrhages can be treated surgically. In our series of 7 cases, we documented impaired visual acuity, central visual field defects, circumscribed and sometimes complex changes of retinal reflectivity, and intraretinal fluid. Over time, visual acuity tended to improve, and scotoma subjectively decreased in size.

Conclusion: Laser pointers can cause persistent retinal damage and visual impairment. In view of the practically unimpeded access to laser pointers (even high-performance ones) over the Internet, society at large now needs to be more aware of the danger posed by these devices, particularly to children and adolescents.

From Birtel J, Harmening WM, Krohne TU, Holz FG, Charbel Issa P, Herrmann P. Retinal injury following laser pointer exposure—a systematic review and case series. Dtsch Arztebl Int, 2017 DOI: 10.3238/arztebl.2017.0831. Original in German, translation in English.


US: High-powered lasers can be obtained from inside a Christmas holiday laser projector

A hacker opened a three-color Christmas/holiday laser “star shower” type projector, to find high-powered blue and green laser diodes inside.

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.”

Laser inside a Christmas projector
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.

US: MIT develops system to locate laser perpetrators using as few as two cameras, from miles away

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory has developed a system that can provide the ground location of someone directing a laser beam into the sky. The intent is to help find persons aiming lasers at aircraft.

The Laser Aircraft Strike Suppression Optical System (LASSOS) uses two or more low-light CCD sensor cameras that observe the night sky, each with a star tracker that determines the attitude of the sensor. The cameras observe a volume of airspace such as around an airport. Beam locations are identified by analyzing the two (or more) different views to find the endpoint of the laser beam.

LASSOS system artwork 600w

In one test, LASSOS identified the ground location of a laser beam aimed into the sky, using two cameras located nine nautical miles away. The locations was determined within 30 seconds. The system was so accurate that it could differentiate between locations separated by only 5 meters.

A key attribute of LASSOS is that the final output is a Google Earth map with the beam and perpetrator location overlaid. This makes it easy for law enforcement to know the area they will be searching for the perpetrator.

An MIT press release gave no indication of potential installation and operational costs, and did not indicate any further plans for testing or implementation.

LASSOS was developed under Air Force Contract No. FA8721-05-C-0002 and/or FA8702-15-D-0001.

From a September 2017 MIT Lincoln Laboratory press release, reprinted below (click the “read more” link.) MIT also has a YouTube video of the system; the LASSOS description begins about 56 seconds into the video. Thanks to Greg Makhov, who brought this to our attention via a Tech Briefs article printed in January 2018.

Click to read more...

US: 6,753 laser/aircraft incidents reported to FAA in 2017; 9% lower than 2016

During 2017, there were 6,753 laser illumination incidents reported to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. This compares with 7,442 reports in 2016, and 7,703 reports in 2015. This is a 9% drop compared with 2016, and a 12% drop compared with 2015.


2017 laser strikes FAA 2004-2017 600w



Here is the same data, plotted to show the average number of illuminations per day, during each year:

2017 laser strikes FAA each day 600w

For additional charts and statistics, click the “read more” link.

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UK: "Call for evidence" response summarizes many groups' views on laser eye, plane incidents; sets forth actions

[NOTE: This news item includes commentary from LaserPointerSafety.com, as we feel the U.K. report is a must-read which gives important guidance on laser pointer hazards and actions.]

The U.K. government published on January 8 2018 a 14-page report on laser pointer safety and potential regulation. The report includes two new actions the government will take to reduce the number and risk of unsafe laser pointers:

     1) “strengthening safeguards to stop high-powered lasers entering the country”, and
     2) “working with manufacturers and retailers to [voluntarily] improve labeling.

Separately, the U.K. government published the Laser Misuse (Vehicles) Bill on December 20 2017. This makes it illegal to point a laser at vehicles, with a prison term of up to five years and an unlimited fine.

“Laser pointers: call for evidence - government response”


From August 12 to October 6 2017, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy opened a “Call for Evidence” consultation. BEIS set forth 19 questions, asking the public to give their views on laser pointer hazards and what actions to take.

The January 8 2018 government response summarizes the 265 responses received.

The report is especially useful because it incorporates the views of many disparate groups: pilots (64% of respondents), “concerned members of the public” (14%), professional laser safety advisors (9%), users of laser pointers (6%), ophthalmologists (6%), and Trading Standards authorities (2%).

The report then distills these views, finding surprising commonality. It is a good overview for the non-expert on two topics:

     1) Actual laser pointer hazards — separating fact from fear
     2) Potential actions to reduce the number and severity of laser pointer injuries and incidents — including what actions may not work (e.g., licensing).

We have summarized the findings below (click the “read more” link). However, reading the complete document is well worth the time of anyone interested in this issue.
Click to read more...

UK: Laser pen imports to be more restrictive

According to a January 8 2018 story in The Telegraph, “additional support will be offered to local authority port teams and border officials in order to help identify and confiscate the high powered lasers” that are said to be responsible for many of the over 1,200 incidents in 2017 when lasers were aimed at aircraft in Britain.

In addition, “new measures are also being introduced to tackle the sale of unsafe pointers, including more stringent testing.”

The move was supported by the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA).

It may help reduce the number of laser pen illuminations of trains (578 incidents were reported between April 2011 and November 2017) and eye injuries (more than 150 reported since 2013, mainly involving children).

Consumer Minister Margot James said the ministry is “going further than ever before” to police the sale of unsafe lasers.

The Argus quoted Professor John O’Hagan, of Public Health England’s laser and optical radiation dosimetry group.He said: “Over time we have become increasingly concerned about the dangers of growing numbers of unlabelled and incorrectly labelled high power laser pointers being bought by the public. It is tragic that we continue to see eye injuries, especially in children. Laser safety experts at Public Health England have worked closely with local authorities in stopping large numbers of these lasers reaching UK consumers. The extra protections proposed should help even further - if you have a laser and you don’t need it, remove the batteries and get rid of it.”

From
The Telegraph and The Argus. The stories seem to be a result of the U.K. government publishing, on January 8 2018, a response to their fall 2017 Call for Evidence. The government response included the increased import enforcement actions.

See also the December 2017 news of a new U.K. law that provides stronger penalties for aiming at aircraft. The new import/consumer initiative seems to be part of the government thrust against illegal and overpowered laser pens.