LiDAR damage to camera at CES?

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)

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 below to see the full-size (100%) original photograph.
  • Click here for larger image
  • 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

Additional news

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 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 LiDARby Brian Wong, Guest contributor, Jan 15, 2019

Please tell us what conclusions you draw from the above compendium of articles.

12 comments on “LiDAR damage to camera at CES?

  1. David Ashton
    January 23, 2019

    Steve, you said early on “A man using his new $1,198 Sony camera found that his photographs were damaged …”.  Just the photographs, or was there permanent damage to the camera ?

    Later on you say, “The image below shows numerous laser-caused spots on an HP Photosmart 945, a 5-megapixel camera “. unhappily the image does not seem to be there, could you post it?

    This seems to me to be a bit of a “D'OH!” issue – you don't look at lasers, and you shouldn't point your camera at them, and you do point this out: “Avoid beams which are coming straight into your lens “.

    Another caveat. “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. ”  But if you are on telephoto zoom and point your camera at a laser, that light is delivered directly, optically, to your eye, so be very careful!  This won't happen if you're looking at a viewfinder on lesser cameras, even if the laser damages the sensor.

  2. Steve Taranovich
    January 23, 2019

    Hi David,

    Thanks for you comments/questions—let me clarify:

     “A man using his new $1,198 Sony camera found that his photographs were damaged …”. —the camera CCD component was allegedly permanently damaged. 

    The image below shows numerous laser-caused spots on an HP Photosmart 945, a 5-megapixel camera “—-Sorry about that—I am adding the image to the above artilce now from this article 

    Good point aboutBut if you are on telephoto zoom and point your camera at a laser, that light is delivered directly, optically, to your eye, so be very careful!  This won't happen if you're looking at a viewfinder on lesser cameras, even if the laser damages the sensor.

    And thanks for catching the discrepancies and areas that needed clarification

  3. David Ashton
    January 23, 2019

    Thanks Steve – even losing a couple of pixels detracts greatly from the image, it would be very annoying…

  4. Steve Taranovich
    January 23, 2019

    You are right David—if you have a camera like that you certainly want perfection

  5. Rama Murthy
    January 23, 2019

    Steve, Nice blog and very appropriate references. It looks like the school physics learning of light, heat and electricity being separate chapters still haunts us despite the later EM wave knowledge. RF engineers have documented enough about the sensitive front end protections of all outdoor measurements with spectrum analysers and all RF receivers in the presence of (pulsed) radar transmitters or high power Rf transmitters.Pulsed lasers are like radar transmitter equivalents and will have to be treated with respect when camera imaging sensors are around. RF engineers also have popularised the dB notation but do we get to know the amount of attenuation of an equivalent optical filter with “broad enough optical band” attenuation? Can we buy say an optical smoke grey filter with a specified attenuation to solve this problem and this( )?

               Due to the recent proliferation of lasers and cameras especially in the last 25 years, we are seeing an increasing “Laser and Camera EMI” or should we say “OI”(optical Interference)? May be when self driving vehicles arrive on road, apart from digital cameras , even a low cost mobile phone camera will perhaps have a front end protection as a standsrd feature? But are the eyes of a spectacle wearing rider in such a car (waiting at a signal) still safe with the multiple lidar rays entering into his eyes? 

  6. Steve Taranovich
    January 24, 2019

    Hi Rama,

    Excellent observations.

    Regarding eye damage/safety with LASERs—see US Dept. of Labor OSHA safety standards 

  7. Andy_I
    January 31, 2019

    Steve, are you sure your photo doesn't just show a whole lot of birds?  🙂

    I know it doesn't — especially interesting is that nice arc towards the left.  But it could be a good excuse.

  8. Steve Taranovich
    January 31, 2019

    Hi Andy—LiDAR damage to CCDs is not a topic 'for the birds'—-Haha, pun intended 🙂 

    Although the damage does look like birds, the damage was verified on subsequent photos taken by the photographer

  9. Andy_I
    January 31, 2019

    I'm not an expert on any of this.  But I know that I fear lasers of almost any power level, and have for half a century.  It's not an irrational fear.  Lasers are fine if you know where they are pointed.  Laser shows may freak me out, because the audience is in range and because there is a LOT more peak power in those than in a simple laser pointer to use on a whiteboard.

    My understanding is that most tissue damage to the human body, happens because of heating (I'm an RF guy), so there is a time component to it, and very brief exposure (say, microseconds) tends to be safer.  What matters is the total energy absorbed — the area under the curve — rather than the peak power level.  Human bodies being what they are, heating over a period of time tends to spread out somewhat.

    This is in contrast to a camera's pixel, which is a tiny speck that maybe could be wiped out in an instant, at an energy level (area under the curve) that is too small to heat up and damage living tissue.

    re: DSLRs — Any camera with an electronic viewfinder has the sensor always susceptible to damage.  Any camera with an optical viewfinder has your eye susceptible to damage.

    Interesting questions about using filters to reduce the damage potential.  Of course that only works if the laser source is the same color or wavelength range that the filter is tuned to.

  10. Steve Taranovich
    February 1, 2019

    All good points Andy—I expect to see more legislation on this as well as manufacturers of Lasers being responsible to help ensure safety even more. Lasers are relatively new, especially in LiDAR. And there will always be idiots out there using laser pointers improperly and not for what they were intended. It's like hackers on the internet—they can do lots of damage and technology keeps trying to curb their hurtful actions, but it's a never-ending battle.

  11. Andy_I
    February 1, 2019

    Yup — like the idiots pointing lasers at pilots flying jets on final approach.  Even if it doesn't damage their eye, it could temporarily impair their judgment.

  12. DaveR1234
    January 2, 2020

    Who cares about damaging a camera, what about damage to someone’s eyes or other body parts? Has anyone addresses the scenario of a fleet of autonomous vehicles driving in a pedestrian area?
    No one considered the impact of plastic waste until it became an issue, now we are generating RF garbage (Lidar, 4/5/6G, LiIon batteries, wireless chargers, …) and no one is concerned.

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