Recently, AEye, was demonstrating their LiDAR system at CES in Las Vegas. A man using his new $1,198 Sony camera found that his photographs were damaged after he took pictures of AEye’s LiDAR LASER scanning system.
So, is AEye’s LASER higher power than competitors or is the sensor system more sensitive or both? And, should camera users be aware of potential LASER damage in these kinds of instances? And should shows properly and prominently warn camera users of any potential camera damage due to the presence of lasers?
AEye’s iDAR is more than LiDAR (Image courtesy of AEye)
Here are my thoughts:
In my opinion, first of all, facts: LiDAR uses a scanning technique and does not focus the LASER in one spot for any period of time. I am not sure of the power level of AEye’s LASER in this incident. What I do know is that LIDAR in automobiles will help lower the incidence of death, injury, and vehicle/property damage. This technology will save lives, lower injury rates, and lower damages which should lead to lower insurance rates (hopefully). This technology is apparently safe for the human eye. An infrared filter installed on your camera should help protect the CCD element from LASER damage. Finally, I believe that shows should properly and prominently warn camera users of any potential camera damage due to the presence of lasers and camera users should also shoulder some responsibility of being aware of potential LASER damage in these kinds of instances.
Typically Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) users are not at risk while the shutter is closed or mirror is down, so you are only at risk for the fraction of a second that you are taking the photo.
For video users and mirrorless cameras (including smartphones) I'm not sure the risks are fully understood and documented.
Judge for yourself regarding potential camera damage with the following information:
Regarding AEye LiDAR
AEye has a LiDAR design that has a scalable, software-definable approach which allows the system to capture more intelligent information with fewer data, enabling much faster perception and path planning.
An AEye LiDAR product test
On November 8, 2018, VSI Labs oversaw the performance tests for AEye’s iDAR (intelligent Detection And Ranging) system In all three performance tests, it was determined that the tests carried out by AEye employees and witnessed by Sara Sargent, applications engineer for VSI Labs, were valid and that the objective was reached, including that the sensor was able to detect a target at a distance of 1000 meters with their solid-sate 1550nm Agile LiDAR
The iDAR was turned on for 30 seconds. At 100 Hz there must be 100 scans per second. Each scan was recorded as a measurement. In 30 seconds, at least 3000 measurements must be captured to validate a 100 Hz scan rate.
The iDAR sensor from AEye is a unique device because it couples an HD camera and LiDAR within the sensor hardware. AEye calls their combined frames Dynamic Vixels which includes the properties of computer vision with the depth information associated with the LiDAR point cloud. The end result is a sensor that can detect and potentially classify objects with enough precision, accuracy, and distance not possible with conventional LiDAR or camera sensors.
Furthermore, coupling the two sensors at the front end eliminates the compute intensive sensor fusion within a domain controller from using discrete sensors.
ILDA has presented information about audience-scanning laser shows in the scientific paper "Scanning Audiences at Laser Shows: Theory, Practice and a Proposal ". This gives some reasons why even shows which are well above the MPE have not caused any apparent eye changes in millions of audience members. Some of the reasons may also be relevant to why some camera sensors are damaged while many others are not.
The following information came from the International Laser Display Association (ILDA). It is primarily about camera sensor damage at concerts, but also applies to using laser pointers “around the house” and aiming them into a camera.
Lasers emit concentrated beams of light, which can heat up sensitive surfaces (like the eye's retina) and cause damage. Camera sensors are, in general, more susceptible to damage than the human eye.
For large scale shows such as televised concerts, laser show producers work with clients to avoid TV camera locations and video projectors (ILDA Members, see this page for details; login required). However, it is not possible for laser show producers to be responsible for all cameras, smartphones and camcorders which might be used at a show.
Here are some Tips for audience members with cameras when lasers are in use:
If you attend a show as an audience member, you should take reasonable precautions not to let a laser beam DIRECTLY enter your camera lens:
- You can photograph the beams in mid-air, or while doing graphics on a screen. If you can't see the laser source (projector output aperture or bounce mirror) in your viewfinder, this means you're not getting the full beam power into your lens. Indirect viewing like this should not cause damage.
- Avoid beams which are coming straight into your lens (or bounced off a mirror or other reflective surface and then into your lens). The damage potential is much greater when the entire beam power enters the camera lens.
Eye safety is first
The primary safety concern for laserists is that the show is eye-safe. A good working definition of "eye-safe" is that everyone leaves the show with the same vision they entered -- there is no detrimental change to a person's vision. International safety standards such as IEC 60825 and ANSI Z136 set "Maximum Permissible Exposure" levels for laser light. Shows done at or below the MPE should cause no problem for human eyes. Even shows which exceed the MPE have remarkably safe records (eight documented or claimed eye injuries out of 109,000,000 persons viewing continuous-wave laser shows over 30 years).
However, there are no MPEs for sensors such as CMOS or CCD chips. This means a show may be perfectly safe for eyes, but could possibly damage a camera sensor. One reason is that camera lenses may gather more laser light, and concentrate it to a finer point. Another reason is that CMOS or CCD sensors are more easily damaged than the eye.
Type of damage
The degree of damage can vary widely.
- We have seen cases of minor damage, such as small areas of a few pixels which no longer work. The pixels are not noticeable unless in an area of uniform color such as a blue sky.
- In more extreme cases, there may be larger or more extensive dead-pixel areas. Or there may be "burn in" of a laser image. The damage is readily noticeable in most photos or videos. In this case, the camera is ruined for quality use. The image below shows numerous laser-caused spots on an HP Photosmart 945, a 5-megapixel camera. Click on the image to see the full-size (100%) original photograph.
- Damage to one spot may result in a horizontal or vertical line. In this case, data from the entire row or column of sensors can no longer be read out properly.
Search YouTube and other internet sources for videos and pictures of laser-caused damage. See for example Laser light kills Canon 5D Mark II .
Note that not all claims of laser damage are valid. In March 2009, we reviewed a case where it was claimed that a Fuji F60fd 12-megapixel point-and-shoot camera was severely damaged by a laser. ILDA analyzed video from the camera, and determined the probable cause to be a very bright white light. Also, this YouTube video shows a standard camera flash (speedlight) causing severe damage to a CCD sensor in an instant.
More information on sensor damage
A webpage called “Analysis of Laser Light Threat to CCTV ” gives a good general overview of what power ranges and usage patterns might damage camera sensors.
A July 2014 Master’s thesis by Sacha Casken goes into detail about the effect of lasers on common point-and-shoot camera sensors. This appears to be the first published laboratory test of lasers on consumer-type sensors. A summary, reprinted by permission of Cranfield University, is available here.
A March 2017 article in the journal Optical Engineering looked at laser damage to CMOS and CCD sensors, and to digital micromirror devices (DMDs) used in video projectors. The authors looked at both pulsed lasers and continuous wave lasers. Since CW lasers are more common for consumer uses such as pointers, handhelds, and light show projectors, we are presenting only the CW laser beam results.
Laser Projectors Burned my Camera’s Sensor, Creating Dead Pixels
In September 2014, a leaked copy of Apple’s guide to iPhone damage, furnished to its authorized repair centers, listed “Damage due to laser contact with camera” as an Out-of-Warranty Service item. See this LaserPointerSafety.com news story for more information.
An average laser pointer will probably not damage a security camera.
Lasers are beams of light, which produce heat. If a laser makes sustained contact with sensitive materials, such as a camera sensor, it causes physical damage. To disable a security camera with a laser pointer is incredibly hard. Average laser pointers don’t have the power to disarm the sensor. Also, to disarm a camera sensor, one must hit it precisely head-on within about 5 meters (16 feet).
Yet, there are lasers can disrupt the CCD (camera sensor) on your security camera. Often, the lasers will create dead pixels. There may be 1 or 2 dead pixels or it could drop complete vertical or horizontal lines from the image. In extreme cases, it can actually melt the sensor.
The lasers used in many concerts and shows more likely belong to either a Class IIIb or Class IV laser. Anything below this class is relatively safe to look at with the human eye (or a camera sensor). To put this in context, following are the levels of lasers as recognized by the FDA:
- Class I – CD players
- Class II – Barcode scanners
- Class IIIa – Laser pointers
- Class IIIb – Laser light shows
- Class IV – Industrial and medical lasers that can be used for eye surgery
All lasers above a Class IIIb must be registered in the United States. If someone brings in an industrial grade laser to disarm your security camera, then there may be bigger issues besides your disrupted security footage.
The above reference is from Will a Laser Pointer Damage a Security Camera?
Dangers of Laser Pointers, October 1, 2018 by skytechlasers
Laser-induced damage threshold of camera sensors and micro-optoelectromechanical systems
Jumping Hurdles To Build A Better LiDAR by Brian Wong, Guest contributor, Jan 15, 2019
Please tell us what conclusions you draw from the above compendium of articles.