Ask Funovation Blog Series: Where our team answers frequently asked questions in their own words!
One of the most frequently asked questions about Funovation’s attractions like the Laser Maze Challenge® is “Are those lasers safe?!” We hear you, and we want to pull back the curtain on our safety measures we take with our lasers! I sat down to chat with our CVO and Co-Founder, Ted Ziemkowski, about how Funovation makes playing with lasers all fun and games!
Lis Geraci: So, let’s start with…what *is* a laser?
Ted Ziemkowski: Well, L.A.S.E.R is actually an acronym which stands for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation”. But what it is in layman’s terms is a really cool intense beam of coherent monochromatic light.
LG: “Coherent monochromatic light” is layman’s terms?
TZ: Yes! You can google it. And because of this, it looks to be a pure color of light that can been seen a very far distance away. If in a foggy environment, it will make a really cool straight line of light, which is a good demonstration of the Tyndall Effect. You can google that, too.
LG: A beam of light that can stretch that far and that intensely leads me to ask, then – aren’t lasers dangerous?
TZ: Lasers above certain power levels can be very dangerous to your eyes and even to your body in very high powers. However, rest assured that that our laser system is in the safest Laser Class (Class 1 Laser system), and THEN we go above and beyond to ensure they pose no threats to your eyes or body.
The reason that lasers can be so dangerous is that they come from a very small source, a “point source,” where all the photons are traveling in the same wave. This means that when focused, the laser can concentrate ALL of its power in a VERY TINY spot. If a laser is pointed into your eye, nearly all the energy from the laser is focused by your eye lens onto very few of your rods and cones. This can result in optical intensities greater than looking at the sun. And it explains why even those very low power lasers you see appear very bright when they are pointed directly into your eye (which, for the record, I don’t recommend).
In the case of most commercial laser pointers, the laser is at the lower power range, which is classified as Class 1 through Class 3R. At this power range, something called the “Human Aversion Response” kicks in effectively, meaning that the light is so painful that your body naturally looks away fast enough to prevent permanent damage from the exposure to the laser. In addition to this, your eye is constantly quivering – meaning that the laser isn’t focused on the same spot for very long. At lower powers like Class 1 through Class 3R, this quivering effectively prevents permanent damage.
LG: So how do we make sure our attractions are safer than laser pointers?
TZ: We took these safe Class 3R lasers, controlled them officially to Class 1 limits. And then we brought yet another level of safety by developing patented control hardware that detects when a beam of light is disrupted, and then immediately shuts the laser down to well-below the Class 1 limits.
LG: Wow, that’s a smart way to do it. Did that technology already exist?
TZ: Nope! We actually had to make our own laser modules to make sure that the laser light could be controlled fast enough.
LG: Ok, but what if I stood right in front of the laser RIGHT as it turns on?
TZ: Good question. The laser control safety hardware is always running – that’s why we implemented it in hardware and not in software. When a laser is turned on by the attraction system, the hardware knows how long it should take to detect the laser beam on the other side of the wall with a receiver. If it does not receive the beam within microseconds, the laser immediately turns off. This means that the system, evenright as you turn it on, is a Class 1 Laser system and is safe.
LG: And what if I’m a really super fast player, and my head moves quickly over the light?
TZ: Using our hardware, you would have to move your head at the speed of sound to get the laser from the side of your head where we detect the beam is broken, to your eye, before the laser automatically turns off. You literally cannot move your head fast enough to get the laser directly into your eye with our systems.
LG: Hmm, I’ll have to work on my speed of sound movement.
TZ: Even if you did somehow move your head at the speed of sound, those microseconds of laser exposure are still within the Class 1 MPE (Maximum Permissible Exposure) limits. So, sorry but you’re not going to get yourself hurt on our lasers no matter how fast you are! We have had labs in both the US and Europe test and verify this performance.
LG: Another question for you, then – why are Funovation’s lasers green instead of red, like I’ve seen in other companies’ attractions?
TZ: That is a deliberate decision we’ve made. Funovation uses lasers that emit light at roughly a 520-nanometer wavelength, which appears green to the human eye. As it turns out, our eyes’ response peaks at 555-nanometers, and falls off dramatically on either side of that. This means that as the light moves closer to the blue/purple and yellow/red wavelengths, our eyes cannot see it as strongly, even though it’s at the same strength of light power.
In other words, for the same (safe) level of laser power, green lasers appear the brightest.
LG: How long did it take to create this comprehensive laser system?
TZ: Our first Laser Maze Challenge was developed over a few months, but the real answer is 11 years. Our team has never stopped improving the game, adding customer input and making the systems more reliable. If you compared our first Laser Maze Challenge® attraction to our current system abilities, it would be like comparing the telegraph to a smartphone (well maybe not quite that much, but almost!).
LG: My last question is more for fun: What is your favorite laser movie scene?
TZ: There are so many cool ones – Mission impossible, Oceans 12, and Entrapment all come to mind – but I like comedy, so my favorite one is when Steve Carrell as Agent 86 in Get Smart (2008) doesn’t quite make it through the laser security system cleanly.
Haven’t seen this scene? You have to watch it. Try not to laugh, we dare you.
Thanks to Ted Ziemkowski, Co-Founder and CVO of Funovation for letting us in on the inner workings of our laser systems!