If lasers are your hobby, you face a conundrum. There are so many off-the-shelf lasers that use so many different ways of amplifying and stimulating light that the whole thing can be downright — unstimulating. Keeping things fresh therefore requires rolling your own lasers, and these DIY nitrogen TEA and dye lasers seem like a fun way to go.
These devices are the work of [Les Wright], who takes us on a somewhat lengthy but really informative tour of transversely excited atmospheric (TEA) lasers. The idea with TEA lasers is that a gas, often carbon dioxide in commercial lasers but either air or pure nitrogen in this case, is excited by a high-voltage discharge across long parallel electrodes. TEA lasers are dead easy to make — we’ve covered them a few times — but as [Les] points out, that ease of construction leads to designs that are more ad hoc than engineered.
In the video below, [Les] presents three designs that are far more robust than the typical TEA laser. His lasers use capacitors made from aluminum foil with polyethylene sheets for dielectric, sometimes with the addition of beautiful “doorknob” ceramic caps too. A spark gap serves as a very fast switch to discharge high voltage across the laser channel, formed by two closely spaced aluminum hex bars. Both the spark gap and the laser channel can be filled with low-pressure nitrogen. [Les] demonstrates the power and the speed of his lasers, which can even excite laser emissions in a plain cuvette of rhodamine dye — no mirrors needed! Although eye protection is, of course.
These TEA lasers honestly look like a ton of fun to build and play with. You might not be laser welding or levitating stuff with them, but that’s hardly the point.
You’ve got the RGB keyboard, maybe even the RGB mouse. But can you really call yourself master of the technicolor LED if you don’t have an RGB table to game on? We think you already know the answer. Luckily, as [ItKindaWorks] shows in his latest project, it’s easy to build your own. Assuming you’ve got a big enough laser cutter anyway…
The construction of the table is quite straightforward. Using an 80 watt laser cutter, he puts a channel into a sheet of MDF to accept RGB LED strips, a pocket to hold a Qi wireless charger, and a hole to run all the wires out through. This is then backed with a second, solid, sheet of MDF.
Next, a piece of thin wood veneer goes into the laser cutter. In the video after the break you can see its natural tendency to roll up gave [ItKindaWorks] a little bit of trouble, but when strategically weighted down, it eventually lays out flat. He then uses the laser to blast an array of tiny holes in the veneer, through which the light from the LEDs will shine when it’s been glued over the MDF. A few strips of plastic laid over the strips serve both to diffuse the light and support the top surface.
If playing with but a single laser pointer is fun, then playing with 500 laser pointers must be 500 times the fun, right? So by extension, training 500 laser pointers on a single point must be the pinnacle of pointless mirth. And indeed it is.
When we first spotted this project, we thought for sure it was yet another case of lockdown-induced boredom producing an over-the-top build. Mind you, we have no problem with that, but in this case, [nanoslavic] relates that this is actually a project from a few years back. It’s really as simple as it looks: 500 laser pointer modules arranged on a plate with a grid of holes in a 25 by 20 array. As he placed the laser modules on the board with a glob of hot glue, he carefully aimed each one to hit a single point about a meter and a half away. There are also a handful of blue LEDs nestled into the array, because what project is complete without blue LEDs?
The modules are wired in concentric circuits and controlled by a simple bank of toggle switches. Alas, 500 converging 150-mW 5 mW lasers do not a 75-W 2.5 W laser make; when fully powered, the effect at the focal point is reported to be only a bit warm. But it looks incredible, especially through smoke. Throwing mirrors and lenses into the beam results in some interesting patterns, too.
You’ll still need to take safety seriously if you build something like this, of course, but this one is really just for show. If you’re really serious about doing some damage with lasers, check out the long list of inadvisable laser builds that [Styropyro] has accumulated — from a high-powered “lightsaber” to a 200-Watt laser bazooka.
(Terminate your beams carefully, folks. We don’t want anyone going blind.)
While the K40 has brought affordable laser cutting to the masses, there’s no question that it took a lot of sacrifices to hit that sub-$400 price point. There’s a reason that we’ve seen so many upgrades and improvements made to the base model machine, but for the price it’s hard to complain. That being said, for users who don’t mind spending a bit more money for a more complete out-of-the-box experience, there are other options out there.
One of them is the beamo, from FLUX. [Frank Zhao] recently picked up one of these $1,900 USD laser cutters because he wasn’t thrilled with the compromises made on the K40. Specifically, he really liked the idea of the internal water cooling system. Oddly enough, something about using a garden hose and buckets of water to cool the laser seemed off-putting. Luckily for us, he’s got a technical eye and the free time necessary to do a teardown and objective analysis of his new toy.
The short version of the story is that [Frank] is not only happy with the results he’s getting, but finds the machine to be well designed and built. So if you’re looking for a rant, sorry. But what you will find is a methodical look at each subsystem of the beamo, complete with annotated pictures and the kind of technical details that Hackaday readers crave.
We especially like his attempts to identify parts which might be difficult to source in the future; it looks like the CO2 laser tube might be proprietary, but everything else looks fairly jellybean. That includes the Raspberry Pi 3B that’s running the show, and the off-the-shelf touch screen HDMI display used for the interface. [Frank] did note that FLUX was unwilling to give him the credentials to log into the Pi and poke around, but with direct access to the SD card, it’s not like that will stop anyone who wants to get in.
The influx of cheap laser cutters from China has been a boon to the maker movement, if at the cost of a lot of tinkering to just get the thing to work. So some people just prefer to roll their own, figuring that starting from scratch means you get exactly what you want. And apparently what [Mike Rankin] wanted was a really, really small laser cutter.
The ESP32 Burninator, as [Mike] lovingly calls his creation, is small enough to be in danger of being misplaced accidentally. The stage relies on tiny stepper-actuated linear drives, available on the cheap from AliExpress. The entire mechanical structure is two PCBs — a vertical piece that holds the ESP32, an OLED display, the X-axis motor, and the driver for the laser, which comes from an old DVD burner; a smaller bottom board holds the Y-axis and the stage. “Stage” is actually a rather grand term for the postage-stamp-sized working area of this cutter, but the video below shows that it does indeed cut black paper.
[Dirk] shared a fascinating project of his that consists of several different parts coming together in a satisfying whole. It’s all about wanting to do target practice, indoors, using a simple red laser dot instead of any sort of projectile. While it’s possible to practice by flashing a red laser pointer and watching where it lands on a paper target, it’s much more rewarding (and objective) to record the hits in some way. This is what led [Dirk] to create human-powered, battery-free laser guns with software to track and display hits. In the image above, red laser hits on the target are detected and displayed on the screen by the shooter.
There are several parts to this project and, sadly, the details are a bit incomplete and somewhat scattered around, so we’ll go through the elements one at a time. The first is the guns themselves, and the star of the show is his 3D printed cowboy rifle design. The rifle paints the target with a momentary red laser dot when the trigger is pressed, but that’s not all. [Dirk] appears to have embedded a stepper motor into the lever action, so that working the lever cranks the motor as a generator and stores the small amount of power in a capacitor. Upon pulling the trigger, the capacitor is dumped into the laser (and into a piezo buzzer for a bit of an audio cue, apparently) with just enough juice to create a momentary flash. We wish [Dirk] had provided more details about this part of his build. There are a few more images here, but if you’d like to replicate [Dirk]’s work it looks like you’ll be on your own to some extent.
As for the target end of things, blipping a red dot onto a paper target and using one’s own eyeballs can do the job in a bare minimum sort of way, but [Dirk] went one further. He used Python and OpenCV with a camera to watch for the red dot, capture it, then push an image of the target (with a mark where the impact was detected) to a Chromecast-enabled screen near the shooter. This offers much better feedback and allows for easier scoring. The GitHub repository for the shot detector and target caster is here, and while it could be used on its own to detect any old laser pointer, it really sings when combined with the 3D printed cowboy rifle that doesn’t need batteries.
Not using projectiles in target practice does have some benefits: it’s silent, it’s easy to do safely, there is no need for a backstop, there are no consumables or cleaning, and there is no need to change or patch targets once they get too many holes. Watch it all in action in the video embedded below.
For most of human history, the way to get custom shapes and colors onto one’s retinas was to draw it on a cave wall, or a piece of parchment, or on paper. Later on, we invented electronic displays and used them for everything from televisions to computers, even toying with displays that gave the illusion of a 3D shape existing in front of us. Yet what if one could just skip this surface and draw directly onto our retinas?
Admittedly, the thought of aiming lasers directly at the layer of cells at the back of our eyeballs — the delicate organs which allow us to see — likely does not give one the same response as you’d have when thinking of sitting in front of a 4K, 27″ gaming display to look at the same content. Yet effectively we’d have the same photons painting the same image on our retinas. And what if it could be an 8K display, cinema-sized. Or maybe have a HUD overlay instead, like in video games?
In many ways, this concept of virtual retinal displays as they are called is almost too much like science-fiction, and yet it’s been the subject of decades of research, with increasingly more sophisticated technologies making it closer to an every day reality. Will we be ditching our displays and TVs for this technology any time soon?