As a society, we’ve largely come together to agree that laser pointers are mostly useless. They’re now the preserve of university lecturers and those destined to wind up in a jail cell for harassing helicopter pilots. Most pointers are of the diode-pumped solid state variety. However, [Zenodilodon] treads a different path.
Instead of the usual DPSS build, this pointer packs an optically pumped semiconductor laser, or OPSL. These lasers have the benefit of a wider selection of output wavelengths, and can be built to offer less variance in beam parameters such as divergence.
The build is an attractive one, with the pointer chassis being manufactured out of brass, with several components plated in yellow and rose gold. There’s even a sliding window to observe the laser cavity, which glows brightly in operation. [Zenodilodon] goes into great detail during the machining process, showing all the steps required to produce a visually appealing device.
Laser pointers were cool for about 30 seconds when they first came out, before becoming immediately passé and doing absolutely nothing to improve the boss’s quarterly reports presentation. However, just as with boom boxes and sports cars, more power can always make things better. [Styropyro] was unimpressed with the weak and unreliable laser pointers he’d sourced from eBay, so gutted one and began a fresh build.
After fiddling with some basic 1mW eBay green lasers, [styropyro] had some fun turning up the wick by fiddling with the internal trimpots. This led to the quick and untimely death of the cheap laser diodes, leaving a compact laser pointer shell ripe for the hacking.
To replace the underwhelming stock components, [styropyro] chose a Nichia NDG7475 high-powered laser diode, fitting it into a small heatsink for thermal management. Current draw was far too high to use the original switch, so the stock housing’s button is instead used to switch a MOSFET which delivers the full current to the laser driver. To reach the higher output power of 1.4W, the laser diode is being run over specification at 2.3 amps. All this current draw would quickly overwhelm standard AAA batteries, so a pair of lithium polymer 10440 batteries are substituted in to do the job.
We missed [iliasam’s] laser text projector when it first appeared, perhaps because the original article was in Russian. However, he recently reposted in English and it really caught our eye. You can see a short video of it in operation, below.
The projector uses raster scanning where the beam goes over each spot in a grid pattern. The design uses one laser from a cheap laser pointer and a salvaged mirror module from an old laser printer. The laser pointer diode turned out to be a bit weak, so a DVD laser was eventually put into service. A DVD motor also provides the vertical scan which is just a slight wobble of a mirror. A Blue Pill CPU provides all the smarts. You can find the code on GitHub.
Lasers work by emitting light that is “coherent” in that it doesn’t spread out in a disorganized way like light from most sources does. This makes extremely focused beams possible that can do things like measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon. This behavior isn’t just limited to electromagnetic waves, though. [Gigs] via [CodeParade] was able to build a device that produces a tightly focused sound wave, essentially building an audio laser.
Curiously enough, the device does not emit sound in the frequency range of human hearing. It uses a set of ultrasound speakers which emit a “carrier wave” in the ultrasound frequency. However, with a relatively simple circuit a second signal in the audible frequency range is modulated on top of it, much the same way that an AM radio broadcast has a carrier wave with an amplitude modulated signal on top of it. With this device, though, the air itself acts in a nonlinear way and demodulates the signal, producing the modulated signal as audible sounds.
There are some interesting effects of using this device. First, it is extremely directional, so in order to hear sound from the device you would need to be standing directly in front of it. However, once the ultrasound beam hits a solid object, the wave is instantly demodulated and reflected from the object, making it sound like that object is making the sounds and not the device. It’s obvious that this effect is hard to experience via video, but it’s interesting enough that we’d like to have one of our own to try out. It’s not the only time that sound waves and electromagnetic waves have paired up in interesting ways, either.
The gold standard for laser light shows during rock concerts is Pink Floyd, with shows famous for visual effects as well as excellent music. Not all of us have the funding necessary to produce such epic tapestries of light and sound, but with a little bit of hardware we can get something close. [James]’s latest project is along these lines: he recently built a laser light graphical equalizer that can be used when his band is playing gigs.
To create the laser lines for the equalizer bands, [James] used a series of mirrors mounted on a spinning shaft. When a laser is projected on the spinning mirrors it creates a line. From there, he needed a way to manage the height of each of the seven lines. He used a series of shrouds with servo motors which can shutter the laser lines to their appropriate height.
The final part of the project came in getting the programming done. The brain of this project is an MSGEQ7 which takes an audio input signal and splits it into seven frequencies for the equalizer. Each one of the seven frequencies is fed to one of the seven servo-controlled shutters which controls the height of each laser line using an Arduino. This is a great project, and [James] is perhaps well on his way to using lasers for other interesting musical purposes.
Throughout our day-to-day experiences, we come across or make use of many scientific principles which we might not be aware of, even if we immediately recognize them when they’re described. One such curiosity is that of caustics, which refers not only to corrosive substances, but can also refer to a behavior of light that can be observed when it passes through transparent objects. Holding up a glass to a light source will produce the effect, for example, and while this is certainly interesting, there are also ways of manipulating these patterns using lasers, which makes an aurora-like effect.
The first part of this project is finding a light source. LEDs proved to be too broad for good resolution, so [Neuromodulator] pulled the lasers out of some DVD drives for point sources. From there, the surface of the water he was using to generate the caustic patterns needed to be agitated, as the patterns don’t form when passing through a smooth surface. For this he used a small speaker and driver circuit which allows precise control of the ripples on the water.
The final part of the project was fixing the lasers to a special lens scavenged from a projector, and hooking everything up to the driver circuit for the lasers. From there, the caustic patterns can be produced and controlled, although [Neuromodulator] notes that the effects that this device has on film are quite different from the way the human eye and brain perceive them in real life. If you’re fascinated by the effect, even through the lens of the camera, there are other light-based art installations that might catch your eye as well.
What if I told you that you can get rid of your headphones and still listen to music privately, just by shooting lasers at your ears?
The trick here is something called the photoacoustic effect. When certain materials absorb light — or any electromagnetic radiation — that is either pulsed or modulated in intensity, the material will give off a sound. Sometimes not much of a sound, but a sound. This effect is useful for spectroscopy, biomedical imaging, and the study of photosynthesis. MIT researchers are using this effect to beam sound directly into people’s ears. It could lead to devices that deliver an audio message to specific people with no hardware on the receiving end. But for now, ditching those AirPods for LaserPods remains science fiction.
There are a few mechanisms that explain the photoacoustic effect, but the simple explanation is the energy causes localized heating and cooling, the material microscopically expands and contracts, and that causes pressure changes in the sample and the surrounding air. Saying pressure waves in air is just a fancy way of explaining sound.