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Flying a drone comes with many layers of risks. Sometimes you will have to fly it against strong winds, or in areas with lots of buildings or birds. You might also encounter the challenge of bystanders with laser pointers which might interfere with your visual piloting and navigation.
High-powered lasers could bring down a drone. Laser rays create heat and can cause the outer body of the drone to melt, and damage the drone’s internal wiring. Standard laser pointers can interfere with the sensors of the drone and emit bright lights which can blind the camera, thus obstructing the operator’s view, potentially causing a crash.
To better understand laser pointers and their effect on drones, let’s look at how they work.
What are laser pointers?
These are pen-like devices that project a narrow beam of light. All the projected light waves feature similar wavelengths, and they travel together in a phase. Laser light does not spread much, concentrating its energy on a small area.
This light concentration is responsible for the heat up and field of view obstruction we mentioned above.
How can a laser pointer bring down a drone?
There are three ways a laser can damage a drone, as discussed below.
Drones are flown at low altitudes, creating the need for sensors. This is why most drones feature infrared sensors to help them accurately judge the surface below them. The drone relies on this for autolanding and for obstacle avoidance features.
However, the functionality of the downward infrared sensors can be interfered with by laser pointers. They cause the image of the surface below the drone to be blurry. This means the drone cannot reliably sense the surfaces or potential obstacles in its path, which can lead to a crash.
A drone operator relies on the camera of the drone to get a clear idea of the drone’s flight path when flying. Lasers can inhibit the vision of the drone pilot if they emit their bright narrow beams of light to blind the camera.
Every laser pointer carries some heat, whether it’s an ordinary or Industrial-grade laser, due to the direct focus of the light beam. Therefore, there will be heat generation when it comes into contact with the surface of a drone.
If the heat accumulates for long enough, it can melt the plastic housing of the drone, thus revealing and damaging its internal wiring. Some of the plastic and metal parts can even come loose and fall off. This might lead to erratic behavior or a crash landing.
Is taking a drone down with a laser illegal?
Yes. According to the FAA and various state laws, taking a drone down with a laser is illegal. Drones are considered aircraft, and therefore you can be jailed or fined if you use lasers to bring a drone down.
Using a laser pointer interferes with the drone pilot’s ability to fly and the drone’s communication systems. Not only is this damaging someone else’s property, but it can also lead to other potentially harmful events such as crash landing on people or property.
Types of anti-drone laser pointers
While drones have various purposes that they serve for positive purposes, some anti-social people use them for activities that threaten security. Drones have been used to scout areas where trespassing has been restricted.
However, technology has brought the development of high-energy laser pointers that can prevent illegal activities from being carried out by criminals using drones.
Let’s look at some of these powerful laser pointers curbing some of the illegal drone activities.
Rafael Drone Dome
This system was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. It is used to secure the airspace by identifying, tracking, and bringing down suspicious drones. Rafael drone Dome is an all-weather laser pointer that cannot be evaded even by rapidly moving drones.
Once it has identified a drone, it follows its trajectory and emits laser beams. Additionally, this laser pointer can bring down multiple drones because it emits very high energy. It also blocks the drone’s remote control’s command and signal. This laser pointer also jams video transmission from the aircraft to the pilot.
Raytheon drone-killing laser
The Raytheon laser is often used to bring down suspicious drones in the United States. Being a high-energy laser beam machine, Raytheon can target many drones at a go. Once it targets a drone, it can retarget another one with its speed of light engagement.
It is highly effective because it detects, tracks, and shoots down drones using a multi-spectral targeting system.
Several authorities of defence and aviation are using Raytheon drone-killing lasers to counter drone threats. The good side of this laser pointer is that it can be positioned anywhere or even mounted on a vehicle.
This is an advanced high-energy laser beam that can bring down both rotary drones and those with fixed wings. These laser pointers do not explode drones; but instead, they function by burning the outer parts of the drone. It disables the device or makes it prone to breakup.
The Athena laser system has come in handy in bringing down drones flying over commercial or defense airspace with malicious intent.
Evasive measures used by drones
It is evident that a laser pointer can damage a drone regardless of how powerful it is. Fortunately, technology has brought protective laser pointers to help drones protect themselves from harmful ones. These evasive lasers are mounted on drones.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but the evasive laser pointers are incredible. The drone protecting laser works by detecting a laser beam coming towards it, taking note of its wavelength, power, and impulse. After that, the laser protection system mounted on the drone releases its laser pointers and counterattacks the incoming laser beam.
The counter protective laser pointer uses two ways to protect the drone. First, it causes the attacking laser pointer to go astray, while convincing the attackers that they have hit their target.
Second, there will be a production of light burst once it directly hits the incoming beam. This again will convince the attacker that the targeted drone has been hit.
What to do when you see a laser pointer
If you notice someone pointing a pen-like object at you and see a laser beam coming from it, you should contact the local authorities. If they intentionally aimed the laser pointers at your drone, the issue will be handled as assault.
You will also have to defend yourself against the lasers as well. The simplest way to prevent damage or accidents is simply to land your drone as quickly as possible. Or you can try to fly away from the individual with a laser pointer. Avoid direct confrontation.
However, if the laser beams are not shining at you, there is no need to worry. It could be some kids playing with them.
How to report a laser pointer incident
You should report immediately if you notice a laser pointer maliciously aimed at your drone. Your report should include the original direction of the laser pointer, the ray’s color, the altitude of the laser beams, and any other relevant information that might be helpful to the National Airspace authorities.
After reporting, the drone operator affected by the laser pointer illumination must fill a Laser Beam Questionnaire. The questionnaire is available on the official Laser Safety Initiative (link) website of the FAA. It includes the following.
- The drone operator’s name and telephone
- Time and date when the incident took place
- The drone’s flight number
- Nearby major City or State
- Location: Longitude/latitude, or radial distance
- drone’s heading and altitude
- Color of the laser pointer
- Accurate bearing and distance of the laser pointer’s origin from where the drone was
- Any effects or injuries on people or property
Are there other ways of bringing down a drone?
There are other ways to bring down a drone, but many of them are not legal, and we don’t recommend taking matters into your own hands if a drone is bothering you. The first course of action should always be with the legal authorities.
However, some ways to bring a drone down include shooting the drone out of the sky, plucking it out using prey birds, jamming its signal, or using a bigger drone with a dangling net to capture it. Let’s look at each method in detail.
Physically shooting the drone
Although you could shoot a drone if it is hovering over your premises, the act is illegal according to Federal Laws, even if you do so for self-defence. You may also be charged for putting the public at risk.
Additionally, the drone pilot may sue you in a civil court for bringing their drone down. All airspace is considered to be under the jurisdiction of the FAA. Generally, it is 100% illegal to shoot a drone down, and definitely so in the United States of America.
This method entails using jamming equipment to interfere with the remote controller and drone communication. The equipment used emits a signal on the same frequency as the aircraft, thus causing communication disruption.
It’s important to note, however, according to the Federal Communications Commission, jamming a drone’s signal is illegal in America. You might be imprisoned or forced to pay hefty fines.
Use birds to bring down a drone from the sky
This method is commonly used by the police force. The idea came about to curb the increased cases of Unmanned aircraft crime. The birds are trained to capture drones as they would when hunting prey.
Even though birds capture the aircraft from underneath to avoid being hurt by propellers, the option is not the best. The bird could still be at great risk of being hurt.
The other netting option is using the SkyWall 100 drone catcher, a British invention. It targets the suspicious drone and releases a capsule that produces a web-like net that wraps the drone. Once wrapped, the drone is brought down.
Spoofing interrupts communication between a drone and its operator. In this method, the software is used to copy a drone-conveying sign. This gives the drone shooter control over the drone. They can also access the drone’s camera feed and its information. However, in America, spoofing is also prohibited.
Can laser pointers harm humans?
Yes. High-powered laser pointers can burn the skin. Additionally, direct laser exposure can cause harm to unprotected eyes. This is more so the powerful laser beams, leading to vision disturbances or permanent eye damage.
This is why high-energy laser pointers should be used in areas with minimal or no human activities. Additionally, if such a laser is used to bring down a drone that’s flying high, it can crash on humans or cause an electrical wiring collision. Conclusively, laser pointers should be used in areas that are not crowded.
Which laser colors are the most dangerous and why
According to the FAA, blue and violet are the most dangerous laser colors to the human eye. This is because the human eye is initially less sensitive to them. The eyes take time before reacting to them, unlike a green or red laser.
A drone operator might take longer before blinking or turning away from blue or violet lasers, thus posing a greater injury risk.
Why are blue laser pointers more dangerous?
The easy absorption of blue lasers by retina pigments makes them the most dangerous. Once absorbed, they damage the eye by burning the macula, a highly sensitive retina center.
What laser pointer color is the most powerful
In terms of brightness, green is the most powerful laser color. When compared with other colors, it will always outshine them. This is because the human eye’s sensitivity increases in the green region of the spectrum. Colors like red have longer wavelengths, thus decreasing the eye’s sensitivity to them.
Classes of Laser Pointers
Laser pointers are classified according to their damage-causing potential. There are four classes of laser pointers, as discussed below.
Class 1 Laser Pointers
The laser pointers in this category are safe and won’t cause eye damage to operators. They don’t have much light, and therefore there are no hazardous effects even when exposed to them. Class one lasers are exempted from control measures.
Class 2 Laser Pointers
These laser pointers have low power, and you can see the radiation they emit. Although they are more powerful than class 1 lasers, they are less harmful to the eyes and will not cause any harm to the skin. You can be safe from them by blinking your eyes or turning away from their light.
Class 3 Laser Pointers
This class consists of two levels – class 3B and class 3R. 3R is harmful to the eyes, and most laser pointers at this level are powerful.
On the other hand, class 3B can severely damage your eyes, especially if you get exposed to them for long. Lasers in this category are used in research and physiotherapy treatments. 3B lasers should not be used in public.
Class 4 Laser Pointers
Lasers in this category are highly powered and feature a power output of more than 500 mW. They are hazardous to the eyes and skin. They can also cause fire hazards, and therefore you should enclose their laser beam path.
We have discussed everything you need to know about laser pointers and whether they can bring down a drone. A laser pointer can bring a drone down, especially the high-powered ones. They heat the drone, damage its wiring system, and interfere with the pilot’s field of view.