Larson Scanner Namesake [Glen Larson] Passes Away

[Glen A. Larson] passed away on Friday at the age of 77. He may be most widely recognized for being a producer of the original Battlestar Galactica, Magnum, P.I. and Knight Rider television series’. But for us his association with a row of LEDs which illuminates in a back and forth pattern will always be his legacy.

When we heard about his passing we figured that we would hear about his invention of the Larson Scanner but that was not the case. A bit of research turned up a pretty interesting Wikipedia bio page. He has origins in a music group call The Four Preps and actually composed or collaborated on a number of television theme songs among other notable accomplishments. But nothing about electronics. Did this man of many hats actually invent the hardware for the Larson Scanner used as the Cylon Eye and on the front of K.I.T.T., or does it simply share his name?

Evil Mad Scientist Labs claims to have coined the term Larson Scanner. [Lenore Edman] confirmed to us that EMSL did indeed start the term which is used to name their electronics kit and directed us to [Andrew Probert] who lists effects for the TV series on his portfolio. We’ve reached out to him for more information but had not heard back at the time of publishing. We’ll update this post as details emerge. In the mean time, if you have any insight please leave it below including the source of the information.

If you are not aware, a Larson Scanner is so interesting because the pattern calls for a fading trail of LEDs. It is not simply a fully illuminated pixel moving back and forth but includes dimmed pixels after the brightest one has passed. This is an excellent programming challenge for those just getting into embedded development.

Those interested in learning more about [Gary] may find this lengthy video interview of interest. Otherwise it’s time for the collection of links to past Larson Scanner projects which we’ve covered.

[Thanks Bruce]

20 thoughts on “Larson Scanner Namesake [Glen Larson] Passes Away

  1. God speed Glen A. Larson. Amazing shows – thanks for my childhood!!!! You rock! —- BTW – No one called it the “Larson scanner” . It was called a lot of things – mostly, and if you asked anyone they would say “ROLLER COASTER LIGHTS” were way before any of that. “Night rider lights” later on. IIRC my 200-in-1 electronics kit from Radio Shack had it as a project. Today it’s called “I got an arduino and ten 10 leds!”.

    Oh and…I can not post this:

  2. The “fading pixels” were the result of using traditional light bulbs (and their cooling filaments) rather than LEDs in the original scanners. LEDs in the 1970s were barely bright enough to be indicator lights and could not have been bright enough for studio work with its bright lighting. Hopefully more information will turn up, but it’s not impossible that the first ones were mechanically switched for simplicity and durability, much as movie arcade displays (which had the same fading effect) were for decades, though this was at the cusp of practical logic-based switching and good SCRs to do the work.

    1. I was just wondering if the original fade was caused by Incandescents as apposed to LEDs. Any resources to back this up? Not doubting, as your logic seems valid, just would like more info.

      1. There wasn’t any alternative really. You can look up the luminescence of LEDs at the time – almost nothing (barely enough to do calculator displays and the like), and the only other alternative at that point would have been some kind of gas discharge tube (fluorescent/neon/nixie etc) – xenon strobes would have been very bright but very short illumination time. Since most special effects have to be very dependable so as not to shut down a shoot, incandescent would be the remaining way to go. My guess is that it was simple-logic controlled as mechanical sequencers work well but make a lot of noise.

        1. In one of my electronics-for-kids-packs in the 70s there was a 8-lights-“running circle” that was using a small motor and contact plates to create a “runner light”. It looked very much like the “running lights” (as we called the running lights) including the “fade effect”, which, back then, was not considered an effect but natural.

  3. Aren’t these also called “chasers” or “chaser lamps”? I think the original Star Trek series had a few different flashing arrangements under the main viewscreen.

    Still, I’d like to get a black VW Beetle and do up a K.I.T.T. version. Homage and satire combined.


    “The Cylon’s roving-eye consisted of a string of small light bulbs powered by numerous battery packs contained in the bulky waist belt each Cylon wore. The batteries ran the eye for about 20 minutes per charge and the bulbs generated a lot of heat inside the helmet, limiting the amount of time the actors could spend with the helmet on. The visibilty from the helmets was quite limited and there are stories of Cylons tripping and falling over objects and other actors on the set they failed to see. There were a couple instances of whole rows of Cylons falling one after the other when one of them stumbled and sent the rest cascading to the ground.”

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.