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ArcticMyst Security by Avery

Let's Talk Low Cost Scanning Lasers

Jul 13, 2010
Hello Fellas, I can already anticipate where most of y'all will fall on this discussion, but I searched for a brand name on this site and found nothing, so I thought why not spark up a discussion on the subject?

I've always been a fan of scanning lasers, used at events and concerts. They can create unique visual effects which are impossible to recreate using traditional light sources. One major risk factor with these uses of lasers, is of course eye damage. It is why there are certification programs indented to train individuals to safely operate high powered lasers safely. It traditionally takes a lot of experience and training before you are signed off and allowed to operate these lasers.

However, recently, I've noticed the use of audience scanning lasers has exploded, especially in the underground electronic music scene. One of the biggest barriers to entry for use of this technology was cost, as high powered scanning lasers would cost several thousands of dollars at a minimum. This has changed, as the market now appears flooded with Cheap scanning lasers. I won't name any brands just yet, unless it's ok'd by mods, but I didn't even have to search, but rather these brands are purchasing ads on social media, so that their sales pages are presented in my stories feed. They sell a variety of laser products with power output claims ranging from 3-12W, for prices ranging from $300-500 USD. These lasers come equipped with full RGB color scanning, ILDA and DMX control, and zero accountability should someone set one of these up and point it directly into people's eyes.

Despite the obvious risks of using one of these non-FDA approved laser devices, the low price is certainly enticing. I see them as a potential way for creatives to explore designing with light, and can think of many project ideas that do not involve exposing audiences to the light, such as the channels on social media that create laser light shows set to music, filmed and then shared online. Personally, I've always been interested in this as a hobby, but haven't had the time or budget to invest further. The idea of being able to experiment for under $500 with a scanning RGB laser is very tempting.

On a more technical side of things, I'm curious to know what kind of laser diodes they are using, and how they are able to offer these products at such a low price. I'm highly skeptical of all of their claimed wattage, but I would be curious to know what they're actually capable of outputting. I would rest a bit easier knowing that their claimed 6W laser is actually more like 150mW in terms of potential eye damage. Just because I can only imagine the ways these cheap untraced lasers are being used by those without certification.

Jul 10, 2015
The multi watt laser show boxes they sell online that are made in China are pretty accurate as far as the max output power, because they often use the inexpensive direct diode lasers which are typically multi mode and often do not employ any beam shaping/correction optics, not in the inexpensive ( a few hundred dollars ) laser show boxes that I have seen, so the divergence of the beam/beams is usually poor, however they are still very dangerous to our eyes.

So don't count on the cheap laser show machines being under spec, they can and will blind people at short/medium distances and flash blind as well as distract people much further.

I would NOT scan the crowd or operate a laser show for anyone other than myself to view without the proper licensing, because anyone could claim a visual disability after being scanned/hit and some people may get flash blinded for a moment, then panic and read scary things online...... now you have some hypochondriac or just some lawsuit happy greedy persons looking to sue you....... it's just not worth the risk and without the proper licensing/certification/insurance you won't have a leg to stand on in court.

That said I expect people get away with it because the beams are moving so fast and exposure time to an onlookers eye is very short ( when the beam is moving ), especially at longer distances.
For instance, I have been hit by a beam from a laser show box set up at a music store in their product display room from about 50 feet and for the fraction of a second the beam moved across my eyes it was quite uncomfortable, I turned and got the hell out of there...... but had I been standing much closer, what was uncomfortable could have left a lasting impact or left me stunned with after images for who knows how long, this is why people who don't know exactly what they are doing, shouldn't set up laser displays, especially a display that scans a potential field of onlookers.