Holiday Lights and Laser Dangers

John Huntington’s Blog has covered a lot of holiday light displays over the years. Brooklyn’s Holiday Light Spectacular is the newest one covered on the blog. It tells about Holiday Light Spectacular display with nice pictures, and also gives details on technology behind the display.

If you want to do your own holiday light display then here are some links to interesting project ideas from around Internet: Control your holiday lights with a magic wand circuit allows you to turn on your holiday bulbs with a wave of the magic wand. DIY Christmas Light Suit project uses LabVIEW to perform sound analysis of a playing music and uses LabVIEW Interface for Arduino (LIFA) to drive various Christmas light strings based on the power level at various frequency ranges. Smart Christmas Tree Lights with JenNet-IP video plays with the idea that “What if every Christmas tree light had an Internet address?”. Don’t forget my older Christmas Lights blog postings.

dav1dp_christmas_tree_in_lights

Light shows are nice to watch, but the technology used in them be can dangerous. Blink-182′s Mark Hoppus’ Retina Damaged by a Show Laser posting tells about the potential dangers of light displays that involve powerful lasers. In video Mark Hoppus Presents: The World’s Most Powerful Touring Laser Blink-182‘s bassist and singer Mark Hoppus talks about how he suffered retinal damage during a show in Milwaukee. In the video, he does a pretty good job of explaining how the laser show process works in terms of protecting the audience and what went wrong in performance. That show used a very powerful 26W Lightwave Lightwave Prism Series laser show equipment (you have read right, that’s watts, NOT milliwatts you normally see in most laser specifications).

wrywry_scary_laser

Remember that this kind of laser damage to eye is usually permanent. Primary personal hazards of high-power laser exposure are skin burns, blind spots when the laser strikes the retina, and the worst case total blindness. Lasers have been coming back into vogue in recent years on touring concerts, so be careful if you happen to be near them or operate them. Remember Laser Safety. There is also a a growing concern over the increased potential risk of eye damage from high power LEDs as well because intense blue light can cause damage to the retina. Do not stare at lasers or very high brightness LEDs, because doing so may cause permanent damage to your eyes. Remember that lasers can also damage cameras and camcorders, and even video projector chips (DLP).

17 Comments

  1. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Found this cool looking light show web page
    http://www.worthwhilesmile.com/lights-tunnel/

    One of the best light shows in all of Japan. It runs for 4 full months (from mid November – mid March). Among other things, there is a tunnel of light, a cloud of lights, one of the major flower display areas is turned into an “aurora”, the lake is lit up with lights, and more.

    Reply
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    The most insane houses with Christmas decorations
    http://www.rofltime.com/the-most-insane-houses-with-christmas-decorations/

    We suggest you look at the most insane Christmas decorations – for the main holiday of the year, each prepared differently.

    Reply
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  7. Christmas lights with Arduino « Tomi Engdahl’s ePanorama blog says:

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  10. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Doing Unsafe Things With A Laser Watch
    http://hackaday.com/2014/11/22/doing-unsafe-things-with-a-laser-watch/

    [Pierce Brosnan]-era James Bond had a beautiful Omega wristwatch. Of course as with any Bond gadget, it couldn’t just tell time; it needed to do something else. This watch had a laser, and [Patrick] figured he could replicate this build.

    Bond-inspired LaserWatch ( selfmade, including some burning laser tricks)
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbQ2JvRxNq0

    Reply
  11. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Metamaterial Technologies partners with Airbus to protect pilots from laser strikes
    http://www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/2017/02/metamaterial-technologies-partners-with-airbus-to-protect-pilots-from-laser-strikes.html?cmpid=enl_lfw_lfwenewsletter_2017-02-28

    Metamaterial Technologies (MTI; Halifax, NS, Canada) and its optical filters division, Lamda Guard, entered into an agreement with aircraft manufacturer Airbus to validate, certify, and commercialize its laser protection product metaAIR [trademarked]. In 2014, MTI signed its first agreement with Airbus to test and tailor metaAIR, which is a flexible metamaterial optical filter engineered to protect pilots against harmful laser beams aimed at aircraft.

    Laser strikes on commercial aircraft are rising globally and laser pointers are increasing in power and decreasing in price. Lasers can distract pilots during critical phases of flight and can cause temporary visual impairment. In 2015, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the number of reported laser incidents nearly doubled to 7,703 in commercial aviation.

    “We know from facts and conversations with clients that cockpit illuminations are real, immediate and increasing in frequency, and metaAIR will benefit our customers,”

    “metaAIR will provide vision protection to pilots in the aviation industry and can offer solutions in other industries including the military, transportation and glass manufacturers.”

    Reply
  12. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Laser pointer safety regulation status
    05/26/2017
    http://www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/print/volume-53/issue-06/columns/letters/laser-pointer-safety-regulation-status.html

    Last October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed banning laser pointers that are not red or red-orange by designating green, blue, and other colors as “defective”

    The primary goal is to help restrict green and blue pointers. These currently account for 95% of the 7000+ reported incidents per year in the U.S. where a laser beam is aimed towards an aircraft.

    Pilot illumination is a serious safety concern because bright light can disrupt pilot tasks, can cause veiling glare while the light is on, and can even temporarily flashblind a pilot. This visual interference is potentially hazardous during critical phases of flight: landing and takeoff, low-level flight and hover (helicopters), and emergencies.

    Since 2004, there have been over 55,000 reported laser/aircraft illuminations in the U.S., UK, Canada, Australia, and Italy. Fortunately, none of these have resulted in any accidents, nor in any documented pilot eye injuries. But aviation officials, regulators, and lawmakers are concerned that laser light, in a critical situation at the wrong time, could be “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” For example, Senator Charles Schumer (NY) has called three times for the FDA to take action against laser pointers.

    The FDA told TEPRSSC that it is considering designating all laser pointers from 400 nm (deep violet/near-UV) through blue, green, and yellow to 609 nm (red-orange) as “defective” under 21 CFR 1003.2. This is because such pointers “emit electronic product radiation unnecessary to the accomplishment of its primary purpose, which creates a risk of injury.”

    This would not make possession of current laser pointers illegal at the federal level. It would allow the federal government to ban the manufacture, importation, or sale of new non-red laser pointers. If some professions required specialized pointers, a manufacturer could request a FDA variance, allowing sales to law enforcement or other authorized users. However, the FDA is not set up to allow variances for individual sales. So, a person who wanted to buy a non-red laser pointer would not be able to obtain a newly manufactured laser pointer.

    A key advantage of this rule is that pointers could be controlled by color. A customs official does not need to measure a laser pointer’s power

    Reply
  13. Tomi Engdahl says:

    A Mechanical Laser Show with 3D-Printed Cams and Gears
    http://hackaday.com/2017/06/15/a-mechanical-laser-show-with-3d-printed-cams-and-gears/

    Everyone knows how to make a POV laser display — low-mass, first-surface mirrors for the X- and Y-axes mounted on galvanometers driven rapidly to trace out the pattern. [Evan Stanford] found a simpler way, though: a completely mechanical laser show from 3D-printed parts.

    Mechanical Laser Show
    device that projects a pattern by quickly moving a laser. all mechanical, 3d printed, hand powered
    https://hackaday.io/project/25447-mechanical-laser-show

    Reply
  14. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Many laser-safety eyewear products do not meet specs for shielding light from ultrafast lasers
    http://www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/2017/11/many-laser-safety-eyewear-products-do-not-meet-specs-for-shielding-light-from-ultrafast-lasers.html?cmpid=enl_lfw_lfw_laser_sources_newsletter_2017-12-07

    High-power ultrafast pulsed lasers are used widely for biomedical applications and imaging, materials processing, industrial micromachining and more. But many laser-eyewear products are not tested with ultrafast lasers and may not be providing adequate protection for the technical workers who depend on them.

    The main reason for this situation lies in the typical test procedures and standard measurements widely followed by eyewear makers to set their product specifications. Those methods use low-power continuous-wave (CW) light sources. As a result, they do not capture many potential hazards of actual high-power, pulsed-laser working conditions. Moreover, end users only infrequently test how their eyewear performs in particular applications prior to deployment.

    Scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; Gaithersburg, MD and Boulder, CO) and Hood College (Frederick, MD) have published a study of 24 samples of protective filters used in eyewear from five different manufacturers.1 They found that “some of them are good, but some did not perform even close to their own specs when used with ultrafast lasers,” says NIST researcher Ted Heilweil.

    Reply
  15. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Pulse Train HAT Controlling Laser Light Show Raspberry Pi
    https://www.hackster.io/cnc-design/pulse-train-hat-controlling-laser-light-show-raspberry-pi-d93ba7

    Pulse Train HAT controlling laser light show with Raspberry Pi, using PWM and galvanometer scanners.

    Reply
  16. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Teardown: What’s Inside a Christmas Laser Projector?
    https://hackaday.com/2018/01/22/teardown-christmas-laser-projector/

    Given how popular they are, I was surprised to see a lone Home Accents Holiday Multi-Color Light Projector on the clearance rack at Home Depot for around $14 a few days after Christmas. This was a 75% price reduction from normal MSRP, and right in that sweet impulse-buy price range. Let’s see what’s hiding inside!

    This particular projector isn’t much different from other’s I’ve seen, except for the fact that it actually has three lasers inside. Usually these projectors are just packing red (662 nm) and green (532 nm), but this one has a blue (440 nm) laser as well. Interestingly, there are only two laser apertures in the front of the unit, which means there must be some kind of beam combiner inside that’s allowing two of the lasers to shoot through one window. Presumably it was cheaper and easier to tack a beam combiner into the design than get new cases injection molded.

    The attentive reader might notice from this picture that the lasers are way out of focus: at 3 meters, the spots looked as large as dinner plates. This is easily fixed by using a small pair of pliers on the focusing rings on the front of each laser. 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.

    In fact, once the blue laser was focused I was easily able to burn pieces of paper and punch holes in black plastic. As for the green laser, it is at least twice as bright as my green laser pointer which is labeled as 50 mW. I don’t have the equipment to measure the actual power of these lasers, but it would certainly not surprise me if they are both at least 100 mW.

    Blue Laser Playset

    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. If that’s what you’re after, I’d advise putting the blue laser in the red laser’s heatsink.

    Comments:

    I would suspect that the laser power rating is based on the diffraction grating breaking the beam up. No individual beam is more than 5 mW.

    Personally, I would not open one of these things up. I value my eyesight too much, and I don’t own any laser safety goggles. Do they even make goggles that cal block red, green, and blue all at the same time, without being completely black?

    Good point on diffraction, it could be they come in under the 5 mW FDA guideline because the individual beams don’t exceed that.

    “No user serviceable parts inside.”

    So should we be alarmed that people are waving ~100 mW lasers all over their house and street, while being told that they’re using much safer 5 mW lasers?
    Or maybe the rating was talking about the individual power of each dot, and the beam is being split up 20-odd ways?
    I guess as long as the beam is being diffracted, and not just reflected, it should be fine.

    Are there any usage restrictions on these projectors especially at locations near airports? I’ve seen people projecting them up at trees, which look really cool and all, but I wonder if stray beams could cause issues similar to people pointing laser pointers at airplanes and helicopters.

    Absolutely. Blind an airliner with one and you’re in trouble if caught. It just shifts the charge from intentional to negligent.

    In general using them outside is restricted to people with licenses similar to HAM operators. You won’t really get in trouble by local law enforcement though unless you are caught pointing at traffic or aircraft.

    My guess on that is that the diffraction and focus issues, out of the box, the light coming out of these things would be nothing to a plane overhead. I think they’d be so diffused, I wonder if they’d even be visible if they were pointed straight up in a flight path….

    First of all the beams move about, second they diverge madly (I expect on purpose) and third of all, a stray laser hitting a plane for a second won’t harm it even if it wasn’t so divergent.

    I saw one in a neighborhood this year. At a yard sized distance, one of the colors in the eye was easy to miss and nothing to worry about. It was a little foggy and by moving my head around I could barely see the beams and not at all if I was about 10 minutes of arc (3 mrad) off the axis.

    A lot of these projectors didn’t get sold this XMAS. I think our local hardware chain overstocked big time.

    Mr. Christmas Programmable Lite-Write Laser Show projects images, messages and has music output. They were half price after XMAS and come with an LCD key-pad to program your own message. Must have some sort of X and Y beam control.

    The green laser is probably DPSS which I think is still cheaper than direct injection green. DPSS is pretty critical when it comes to internal temps to operate efficiently. Not only is there and issue with the temp that the SHG crystal wants to be at, but the Nd:YVO4 crystal itself is wavelength dependent and the diode wavelength will change with temperature.

    I bought a similar unit from a DJ equipment place last fall, as disco lighting for my wife’s (redacted)-th birthday party. It is just red-green, but has the remote control and was music activated. This unit was a bit more expensive and has a better case than the Christmas ones… but I’ll bet it’s got pretty much the same mechanisms inside.

    Reply
  17. Tomi Engdahl says:

    eBay laser pointers are DANGEROUS!!!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2crWR1lg6s

    You’ll shoot your eye out kid! But seriously, that eBay laser that was sold to you as 5mW is likely MUCH stronger. Now obviously I love high powered lasers, but I don’t like when something that is sold as “eye safe” is actually a very dangerous laser.

    Reply

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