Friday, June 11, 2010

1W Blue Laser for less than $200! This is madness!

I'm really torn about this.

It's an incredibly powerful laser, twice as powerful as anything available for even 10 times as much money.

On the one hand, I think that in the proper hands, this could be a valuable tool for someone doing holography or other serious research.

On the other, it's being marketed as a "gee-whiz" nerd toy, and it is most definitely not a toy. This is an incredibly dangerous device if not handled EXTREMELY carefully. It can blind you in an instant, long before you can blink, and maybe even through your eyelids. Even exposure to diffuse blue laser light may be enough to permanently damage the ability to see some colors. There was a warning that it may be strong enough to cause melanoma if unprotected skin is exposed or even set skin on fire.

The barrier to entry is so low ($200!) and the difference between the perceived danger and the real danger so great that some jackass is going to buy one of these and show off somewhere and blind a lot of people. People know guns are dangerous, and they still manage to shoot themselves and others accidentally all the time. But with this, people are used to laser pointers and such, and they may not realize how incredibly fast something bad can happen with a laser of this power. It's like if you could buy an AK-47 for a couple of hundred dollars when all anybody had ever seen was a paintball gun. It really scares me.

But even more importantly, it's the harbinger of a trend - as tech gets cheaper, faster and more powerful, the kinds of technologies for which we have counted on cost and knowledge to create barriers to wide availability will instead become universally available. When any fool with access to Google and a few hundred bucks can build himself a microwave pain ray, or worse, what then? When somebody bent on terror buys three or four of these lasers, builds them into a housing that looks like a flashlight and blinds a few thousand people at a football game, what then? It's not hard to conjure a what-if scenario that's really plausible and genuinely frightening.

I don't have a good answer here. I'm someone who's always believed strongly in the free flow of information and the maker culture. But what do we do when somebody builds a gun that shoots blindness at the speed of light for $200?


Jonathan said...

Time for Blue-light safety specs or Safety Contacts (if they don't exist, we may need them- provided they don't MELT to your cornea).

Anonymous said...

Well, I can get a gun that shoots death faster than the speed of sound for less that $200. It'll not just blind you, it will blow your head clean off. Yet, the world gets by.

Here's the deal, if you view your fellow citizens as stupid children you can go around banning all sorts of dangerous things. You can try to create a "nerf world" with no pointy objects or sharp edges. But at what cost? Ultimately such a world must be tyrannical in nature.

Personally, I'd rather live in a free society where occasionally bad things happen. Remember, Utopia does not exist in this world, but a great deal of evil has been done by those who would attempt to create it.

Anonymous said...

The difference between this laser and a gun is at least twofold:

1. Lasers don't need bullets. Crazy people on rampages with guns rarely kill more than a dozen people. Crazy people with lasers could harm thousands in a crowd in seconds.

2. Lasers don't leave forensic evidence. We know how to prove who was shot with what specific gun, and who fired it. If someone blinds you with a laser from a half-mile away, how will you ever prove who did it?

Anonymous said...

This evening, some teen-agers in the park in front of my house shone a blue-light laser in my living-room window.

They were approximately 100 yards away.

They had previously shone a red-light laser in my entrance door.

I went in my living-room window to see where the red light was coming from.

That is when the blue light 'hit' me in the face for a fraction of a second.

I momentarily lost vision in my left eye at that moment.

I then felt pressure building up in my eye and a burning sensation.

It is now 2 two hours later and my left eye still hurts, my vision is blurry and my sight is weaker.

I have notified the police of the event.

I hope that my eye will feel better after a good night's sleep.

Laser devices, probably the blue-light ones specifically, can be dangerous.

What happened to me shows it.

It is quite something to see some people willing to make a buck selling extremely dangerous devices
to kids who probably still eat their snot.