Liquid crystal technology could prevent idiots from distracting pilots with laser pointers

On the long list of things you should never, ever do, shining a laser pointer at an airplane is definitely very close to the top. They might seem harmless when you’re using a laser pointer to play with your cat, but the bright beams the tiny tools produce can be detrimental to a pilot’s orientation, and even cause vision damage when they strike a cockpit.

Literally thousands of reports of laser pointer “attacks” on planes are reported by pilots every year, and the idiots that do this kind of thing just don’t seem to be taking the hint. Now, researchers have developed a way for pilots to battle back against laser-wielding morons with a new windshield technology that essentially kills the lasers before they can cause a problem.

In a presentation at this year’s spring meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers are showcasing a new type of material that could be added to aircraft windshields in the not-so-distant future.

The material uses a liquid crystal solution sandwiched between two layers of glass. When the special liquid crystal formulation is normally transparent, but when it receives an electrical charge it turns more opaque. Combined with a sensor that detects when the plane is being targeted by a laser beam, the material automatically blocks the incoming laser.

According to the team that developed the system, the liquid crystal barrier can block up to 95 percent of lasers in a variety of colors including the most common red, green, and blue. This is particularly important since prior laser-mitigation technology often only addressed certain laser colors and left others unaffected.

“We wanted to come up with a solution that didn’t require us to completely re-engineer an aircraft’s windshield, but instead adds a layer to the glass that harnesses the existing power system for windshield defrosting,” Daniel Maurer, an undergraduate student at Lewis University who worked on the project, said in a statement.

In the future, this technology could be applied to existing aircraft with little in the way of modification, protecting pilots from laser pointers from the ground without requiring a completely new windshield or other more complex upgrades.

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