Over the years, lasers have become more and more popular not only in science, but also for techie projects, music videos, and just playing around. So far, I’ve already reviewed the green laser that TechLasers sent me and the one I received from WarnLaser and later gave away to one lucky reader. This week, I got my hands on a couple more lasers from WarnLaser, but they weren’t sent to me. These lasers were sent to Team Ningu, who are going to use them as part of a low-cost, hobbyist-level LIDAR for terrain mapping, obstacle avoidance, and autonomous navigation in the RoboMagellan contest. The guys in Team Ningu are super smart and should do some awesome things with it. If you remember, I posted about how Radio Head used lasers for their music video. They used lasers for 3D environment mapping, and that’s what Team Ningu plans to do on a much smaller budget. In the meantime, they loaned me the lasers for my geek-a-riffic Christmas laser review.
How do lasers help with mapping?
There’s a few ways to answer this, but I’d like to focus on the application at hand. The lasers send out beams that hit obstacles and everything else surrounding the device doing the mapping. The image below used a larger number of lasers in a device that rotated very quickly to generate a detailed 3D map of its surroundings.
Team Ningu has a budget with less zeroes on it, so they’re doing something different. Instead of an expensive device, they’re be using diffraction to split a single beam into multiple beams. The beams are then picked up by video and locations stored. All of these points recorded end up forming a 3D map of the surroundings, effectively allowing the vehicle to avoid any obstacles in the way…. as long as it works. But these guys should have no problem with it.
What else can these lasers do?
I wanted to do something a little different with these lasers than I’ve done in previous reviews, so I was excited to find that WarnLaser included balloons to pop. That’s not all they included. the WarnLaser package included two lasers, a couple laser stencils (a “No Smoking” sign, and a “Call Me” graphic”), balloons for popping, and a jersey (who knows). I popped balloons using both the green laser and the red one. The green one popped the balloon so fast that I wasn’t ready and was visibly startled by it (feel free to laugh) and the red didn’t take long, either. I tried the different laser stencils with and without the diffraction grating and I tried the diffraction with and without the stencils.
I had a lot of fun with these lasers and I can’t wait to do a follow-up post with Team Ningu showing their vehicle in action when it’s a little further along.