Robot Targets Eyeballs, Fires Lasers. OSHA’s Gonna Love This One

If you even think about hacking with lasers, you’re going to hear about eye safety. “Be careful” they’ll say. “Don’t look into laser with remaining eye” is a joke you’ll not be able to avoid. You’ll hear “Where are your goggles”, and about 1000 other warnings. Don’t get us wrong, laser/eye safety is important. However, the constant warnings can get a bit old — especially when you’re working with a “low power” class 3a laser — you know, the kind with a warning label that says “AVOID DIRECT EYE EXPOSURE” in big black letters on a yellow background.

[Michael Reeves] got fed up, and went a bit nuts. He built a robot specifically to shine a laser into human eyes. No, not a medical robot. This ‘bot lives in a pizza box, is built from servos, duct tape, and [Michael’s] tears. It just shoots lasers at people’s eyes. Needless to say, please, don’t try this at home, or at all.

Designing such a diabolical beast was actually rather simple. The software is written in C#. Frames are captured from an old Logitech webcam, then passed into Emgu CV, which is a .NET wrapper for OpenCV. [Michael] runs a simple face detection algorithm, and uses the results to aim a laser. The laser is mounted on two R/C style servos. An Arduino forms the glue between the servos and the PC.

[Michael] has a great deadpan delivery and it all makes for a great video. Think of him of a younger [Medhi] over at Electroboom.  But we can’t condone this behavior. Properly labeled and characterized red laser pointers have never been shown to cause eye damage. Yet if the laser is out-of-spec or reflects of something that further focuses the beam it is certainly capable of damaging eyesight.

We want [Michael’s] eyesight to remain intact so he can make more videos — he’s entertaining, even if ignoring safety warnings isn’t.

60 thoughts on “Robot Targets Eyeballs, Fires Lasers. OSHA’s Gonna Love This One

  1. Perhaps one application is part of a security system in order to disorient intruders? Pulse a green laser at 10-20Hz or so to maximize the disorienting effect. A 100W LED would have a similar effect and not need a very precise aim, though.

    1. There was a Defcon talk (might have been some other *con, don’t remember), where the guy connected the security system with his “intelligent” RGB lighting. The whole house flashes *red* if need be, also quite bright. If that doesn’t scare the crap out of thieves and alert the neighbors, I don’t know what will :D

      Anyways, there are lasers specifically designed for dazzling, even for civilian applications.
      The pulsed green one is probably the best candidate, as these can make really short pulses which simply don’t have the energy to do damage. But they are bright as fuck and will put eyes out of commission for quite a while.
      The bonus is that not only does it protect your property, it also makes it difficult/near impossible for the bad guy to just run away.

      1. Have you seen Almost Human? There is a great episode where some ‘bad guys’ don (something, don’t remember exactly what) and it makes their faces unrecordable by cameras. I tried to imagine a few ways of doing that in reality… mostly lasers of course.

        1. I think there was an episode of White Collar (don’t judge me) where the main character used a bunch of IR LEDs attached to a hat to blank out his face on security cameras.

          1. TV shows only came with that after various hackers already tried and experimented with it years ago, there are probably several instances of it in the HaD cache.

            Mind you every time someone experiments with it they pretend it is they who invented it just now.

        2. Was it something (perhaps an ugly T-shirt) that is recognized by, and triggers a backdoor in, the cameras’ facial recognition? If so, that’s a reference from Gibson’s Blue Ant trilogy.

    1. I suspect there are a number of celebrities who would like one that targets paparazzi… I’ve just given some enterprising hacker a way to make big bucks, possibly.

  2. Doing this with a 1 mW laser pointer would have been completely safe, and just as funny. 5 mW is getting up to the point where you can hurt yourself if you don’t blink or turn away.

    (I tell my 3 yr old son not to stare into the sun, too.)

  3. FYI Video language is NSFW or at least NSFK (not safe for kids). @Hackaday any chance we could have a small alert on videos if they use language (“shit!” and “oh fuck!”) that might get me fired or make my wife angry if the kids hear it?

      1. I’m a doctor. I do what I want but I don’t need my staff to hear NSWF language. But more importantly (if you read my comment, you’d understand) I don’t want my 3 and 5 yr old girls to hear that while I’m showing them a cool video of someone who built a laser firing robot. I can explain it further if you need help understanding. Just let me know.

        1. Doctors habitually joke in the darkest and rancid ways possible, and of course gossip about patients. There is no way a simple Youtube clip suddenly is an issue.

          If you are serious, properly serious, please, stay away from the internet. Especially any parts of the internet that contain comments. For the love of god, whatever you do, don’t look at the comments. Think of the children!

          1. So you’re saying I shouldn’t spend time with my kids – showing them videos of cool robot builds, trying to get them to also have an interest for hacking as I do while at the same time hope that any videos with foul language be flagged as such? I’m not saying these videos shouldn’t be posted, I’m saying that they should at least have a small nsfw tag on it.

            I really do appreciate your suggestions and insightful thoughts though.

    1. All of my friend’s kids use language way worse than I find acceptable. (and I’m no saint)
      Definitely a different generation. My friend’s teenage son drops an F-bomb at public and I look away because I assumed there was going to be a big conflict and maybe a beating, because that’s how it would have went down when I was his age. But no, he only receives a dirty look.
      I’m not trying to say parents are too easy on their kids, I’m just saying, things are different now.

    1. Riding horses, steam powered anything, cars, boats, submarines and space rockets (all types) clearly fall in the “because we can” category, and from what I can see very few people actually use their eyes.

  4. My idiot friend shone a red laser pointer directly in my eye once and it’s pretty painful. No permanent damage but it was unpleasant and the eye was blind for a few minutes.

    1. Hard to be sure you have permanent damage, after all, you can’t ‘see’ any blind spots you developed and it’s known from people who have spot damage on their retina that the brain fills in the missing info with estimations, but that can be a problem if you do certain tasks, like playing ping-pong say.

    1. A grad student got permanent eye damage in a lab at my university because he walked in the room when the laser was supposed to be off, but they were doing maintenance and activated it by mistake.

  5. It might be interesting to widen the beam and then have it track on faces, or project symbols, so the targets doesn’t get damaged but you got an artsy display, or worse, and advertisement system.

    Or you can set it to aim at the forehead and then freak out cops or military – after stepping away from the device and wiping fingerprints off it first of course.

  6. Need this modified and instead of shining lasers, it detects the obnoxious LED light bars (And HID headlights in halogen housings” that all the bro-trucks around here have, and responds by shining an equally bright LED floodlight on a swivel at the offending vehicle. Probably not something one should actually do, as good as giving some inconsiderate prick a taste of their own medicine sounds!

  7. Adam Fabio will you also cover my hack consisting of a script that datamines public data leaks (irs,ss , etc) to pinpoint your real identity/address in order to hire two guys on the dark web to break your legs? After all its funny, laser in the eye funny, right?

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