REVIEW: SKY Technologies 445nm 1000mW Blue Laser

REVIEW: SKY Technologies 445nm 1000mW Blue Laser - AkihabaraNews.com

ATTENTION:
Do Not Go from Adult to Spastic Child in 1.2 Nanoseconds

Okay, upfront, first and foremost, this laser is a tool, not a toy. Anyone who lets a kid play with this or shines it in their friends’ eyes, or points it at traffic or airports, etc., is also a tool - and will likely face criminal charges. If you own or decide to purchase a powerful device like the herein reviewed SKY Technologies 1000mW 445nm blue laser, don’t be an idiot with it. A laser this powerful can ignite combustible material and direct exposure will severely injure a human eye in less than a second.

Now that we have that out of the way...

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This Light Saber, Errr... Laser, is Exquisite
To confirm the obvious, squash equivocation, and deny any possible deniers, let it be known that this laser is at worst awesome, and at best, next to unbelievable. Hong Kong-based upstart SKY Technologies’ handheld 1000mW blue laser will leave laypeople surprised and impressed, and for those with even a dusting of technodorkiness, it’s enthrallment.

Which is nice. As consumers, we’re all pretty jaded these days; very few products can surprise or truly impress us anymore. Arguably well worth it, the massive gains we enjoy from widespread standardization, along with ubiquitous and near-instantaneous global communication, do incur a certain cost in wonder and surprise.

But not in this case. No, no, no. Not with a 1000mW blue laser. Here’s the gear:


[GALLERY

The unit comes in a well-made, quality pleather-bound case. Generally, batteries cannot be shipped internationally, and naturally are not included (16340 3.7V, or CR123A here in Japan), but thoughtfully, a battery charger is. Here’s some anatomy from the manufacturer,* and yes, we know exactly what it looks like (JSYK, our vote’s on Kenobi):


(our test unit did not include the remote interlock feature, which was fine because we don’t have any laser remotes)

One really has to respect the fact that this thing has a key switch. If something this small needs a lock, it’s serious business. It’s nice to know that the key could be kept in a safe place, away from children or the hard of thinking. Also of note, this laser unit is fitted with a mechanism that effectively broadens, or defocuses the beam, thereby illuminating a much wider area (see photos below and gallery).

Alright then, what can it do?

Specs (just a few) and Performance:
We’re not going to go superduper technical and sift through all the specs and such that an average buyer would just skim over anyway. Wikipedia that if you like, but we’re just going to show you what it does.

For the record, however, we tested a 1000mW (1 watt) handheld unit with a 445nm laser diode emitter (wavelength = 445 nanometers). The laser diodes in such devices are manufactured in Japan by Nichia, and in Germany by Osram. The device itself is, and is called a ‘blue laser’ because, at the 445nm wavelength, blue/violet is the color our eyeballs see. Well, whattaya know, 'Blu-ray' is more than just a clever product name!

WARNING:
If you look directly at blue laser light, you might not see light - of any color - ever again.

But, you can look at the blue light in our photos. Senior Contributor Nayalan visited a Shibuya park to test the wide-focus “flashlight” setting, and also grabbed some nice long-exposure trailing shots. The laser’s consistent intensity shows potential for artistic projects and performance, but as a flashlight, it’s a stretch to call the device anything more than stop-gap useful. It’s definitely impressive to see coherent laser light defocused into a wide beam (one you can actually view with relative safety), but we wouldn’t pack it as our only torch for an evening hike.


[GALLERY] 

Then We Had Way Too Much Fun 
Not for lack of ideas, but for safety's sake, we didn’t burn anything. Fools all, indeed, but not foolish enough to run around the Tokyo Metro area setting small laser fires. If your pyro-proclivities require such stimulation, SKY Technologies has a few controlled-environment firestarting examples on their YouTube channel.

Save fire, we still had fun taking our blue laser out to Japanese food and drink, and we found the variable diffusion rates amongst several beverages to be an entertaining pseudoscience. Please note that these high-tech experiments were conducted safely, and while super fun, AkihabaraNews does not recommend shooting beer, highballs, or safety glasses with a powerful blue laser:


[GALLERY

Fun is Fun, But What is the Laser’s Actual Utility?
Well, while we can definitely unleash truckloads of dorky superlatives on this bright shiny tool, some truth rings in the initial reaction of Senior Contributor, Photographer, and Video guy, Nayalan Moodley:

“I don’t have any idea what I would use this for, but I want it.”

To which three other members of Tokyo’s media community replied:

“Totally. Want.”

Now, to be fair, excited to test the device, we all spoke in jest...mostly. But, the point was well taken, and aside from being wholly badass and awesome and just a little bit scary as a thing, it might not be immediately obvious what this tool does. But we’ve got a few ideas:

• Industrial, Business, and Artistic Applications: We see definite usefulness in factories, construction sites, shipyards, lumber yards, junkyards, or any big yard at which, from a distance, one might want to designate or point out a particular item without having to do the silly “No, on the left. No, the other left. Yeah, the green-ish one. No, like aqua-green…” conversation.

Or, artistically, a photographer, a la Nayalan’s long-exposure work above, or a concert venue lighting director, for example, could also achieve some unique visual effects with this device.

And those effects can be achieved at considerable distance, even in somewhat hazy, brightly lit environments:


[GALLERY

We were actually quite surprised by the laser’s coherence at distance, even in very heavy atmosphere. Undoubtedly, this sort of laser would be useful by any observation or coordinating team with a bird’s eye view of the workspace. In addition to the various industrial ‘yards mentioned above, we’re also thinking oversight and organization for large-scale construction, mining, etc., even in somewhat inclement weather.

• Educational Use: Kids should learn about this kind of stuff, in a real-world, hands-on way. We’ve come to take laser tech for granted because it's all around us: CD & DVD players, desktop & laptop computers, non-solid state digital audio players, rangefinders, surgical devices, barcode scanning, etc., etc. All that being that, however, we’re still constantly finding novel uses for the laser. We’ve figured out how to shoot down missiles with lasers, how to wirelessly communicate with lasers, wireless energy transmission with lasers, teeny-tiny projectors that use lasers… it goes on and on. We and the youths should be down with the laser STEM, and we should know and understand our tech.

• Scientific Use: Hey science people, need a really powerful, slightly scary source of light amplified through the stimulated emission of radiation? Of course you do - science is lousy with lasers! And hey, while we’re talking laser science...

• Laser-Powered Research Could Unleash an Energy Revolution: Okay, not this laser in particular, but lasers as tools are leading us to one of the biggest enchiladas of all: fusion energy. About 35 miles (56km) due East of San Francisco Bay, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are using the most powerful lasers ever built in an attempt to generate a self-sustaining fusion reaction. If successful, this laser-based research could lead to a nearly inexhaustible, relatively clean source of energy for all of humanity. Seriously. Because like, you know that giant nuclear fireball in the sky that’s been burning for a few billion years? Yep, fusion.

Point being, a tool like SKY Technologies' handheld light saber ooops we mean laser has a lot of practical day-to-day utility and potential as a teaching/learning tool. Who knows, some dorky teenage prodigy might grow fusion for science fair or something. Okay, probably not really, but you can dig the sentiment.

Comparing with Other Lasers
It feels like we’d almost need some kind of weapons license to realistically compare this to anything. Sure, SKY Technologies and their competitors offer bigger and more powerful all-in-one, ready to use lasers, but as the price moves past $500, all the way up to $1,500 for the most powerful green lasers, the average consumer quickly hits a ceiling. That is to say, lasers are like HD, 4K, and 8K television: at a certain point, the difference only matters to top-tier professionals.

For perspective’s sake, however, let’s go ahead and compare this 1000mW blue laser to something most people are familiar with: the standard handheld red lasers, which operate at a higher wavelength and are far less powerful. You know, the kind you might use in a classroom/boardroom presentation, or to severely antagonize pets.

In the big-to-small direction, from professional/industrial down to domestic use, there is no comparison, and the two are not interchangeable. In no way is it a good idea to use this 1000mW blue laser in a closed room - even the reflection off of relatively dull surfaces is dangerous. For the inverse comparison thereof, i.e., from small-to-big, you really can’t beat the blue laser. Nothing available in an office supply store could supplant the industrial, artistic, or scientific utility of this device.

Yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out to say, but a laser this powerful is really in its own class. We’ll have to talk with SKY Technologies about it, but to really get a good comparison, we’d probably need to review one of their visible for-much-farther-distances, also very powerful green lasers.

Wrap
You just can’t quite understand the power of this tool until you actually hold it. For those with the experience, you’d find it almost like a firearm; when it’s in your hand, you kind of go directly into safety mode: respect your surroundings, initiate hyper self-monitoring and crowd awareness, and actively internalize the power and responsibility implied by the tool in your hand.

And, the flip side of holding such power is the satisfaction that comes with extracting true utility, whether for work, creative use, doin’ science (FUSION, SON!), or just responsibly having fun.

Last Word:
If you want to get hip to all of SKY Technologies’ offerings, jump on over. In our experience they've been very responsive, thorough, and helpful, and we can easily recommend them as a reliable, globally accessible laser retailer. They also offer tripod mounting systems, and, as modeled by the executive-level technodorky dude below, some surprisingly high-quality safety glasses.

Local Gallery:

High-Res at flickr:

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Photos: Nayalan Moodley - Darc.jp; Reno J. Tibke; SKY Technologies

*Note that SKY Technologies, Inc. does not manufacture the laser diodes themselves. Rather, the diodes are sourced independently here in Asia, paired with SKY’s proprietary circuitry, and produced through SKY’s in-house manufacturing process.

The product used for this review was SKY Technologies’ most powerful handheld blue laser: the 445nm 1000mW Blue Laser, which retails for $159.99. It requires two 16340 3.7V batteries, (CR123A here in Japan). SKY Technologies ships globally to any country that allows lasers (most do). You can check out the SKY Technologies User Manual with Safety Precautions (PDF), and if you need to see what starting a laser fire looks like, hop over to their YouTube channel. Thanks to Will at SKY Technologies, Inc. for providing AkihabaraNews with a review unit.

Oh, and also this, because this:

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