Playing with drones and flying those in loops, barbed fences, and avoiding trees can be fun but you also need to be cautious to protect your drone from anything that might damage it. Rain, no-fly zones, strong winds, and even laser pointers can be damaging to your drones. It may be surprising to you that lasers can damage drones- not any variety, but some can certainly do a lot of harm.

The normal lasers focused on the drone camera can whiteout the image and if it’s a quadcopter with a sensor, it’s possible to damage the sensor as well. But with a normal quadcopter, it would be pretty hard to accurately aim at the camera, and even then, the operator wouldn’t lose control as drone operators are legally required to be in close proximity, and within the field of view of the drone at all times.

I also want to talk a bit about the debate on laser pointers and drone damage after the recent Chilean protests. Let’s get started, shall we?

Can you take down a drone with a Laser pointer?

You may have heard about Chilean protestors using laser pointers to take down police drones. But are ordinary lasers really powerful enough to take down quadcopters?

These are the ways laser pointers can damage drones and drone cameras.

Blinding drone camera

The bright lights coming from a laser can whiteout the image from the drone camera. The drone operator usually keeps a clear line of vision when flying the quadcopter, so if you want to blind them with bright light, you would need to point at their eyes, which isn’t very wise if you ask me!

blinding drone camera with laser pointer

If the drone is a high-end camera with built-in sensors and FPV support, you may risk damaging the sensor with a laser pointed directly at it.

Interference with infrared sensors

Specialized drones that need to take imagery or scan a wide area for topographic features often have infrared sensors that are very sensitive to laser interference.

The ability of drones to deliver high-resolution imagery depends on the signals emitted by the drone to the operator on the ground. The thermal sensors on aerial drones can be very easily affected even by low-powered laser beams, and that can cause the resolution of the imagery to suffer. Worst case, this can cause an accident while landing as the drone lands with faulty information about the ground surface.

Concentrated beams can produce heat

Military and industrial-grade beams are powerful enough to melt metals but even ordinary lasers can produce enough heat to do some significant damage to the drone components.

All beams carry energy, and even if a portion of that is lost, the principle of conservation of energy states that the energy in beams is transferred to heat, and that is transmitted to the surface of the drone. A 10W beam of laser can produce roughly 10W in heat which isn’t much, but when concentrated, and for some time- it can do some serious damage.

using laser lights to heat up drone and damage drones

So, drones can be taken down with laser beams if you are serious about it. But it’s not legal to use lasers to damage drones and that is a punishable offense in all states. It would be wise to not interfere with flying drones as fallen drones can also cause accidents.

Can military lasers destroy drones?

Absolutely! The military has sufficient means to annihilate any drone they wish, and they might use high-powered beams or some signal jammer or even a projectile to take down any drone that’s in violation of drone flight regulations.

laser weapon system to shoot down drones
The THEL Pointer Tracker at the High Energy Laser Systems Test Facility at White Sands Missile Range, N.M.

The High-Energy Laser weapon system (HELWS) is one such system that can be used to remotely detect, track, and take down drones from the sky. Built by Raytheon, this technology is pretty advanced and is currently being used to take down drones that enter restricted areas like nuclear power plants or around army headquarters.

There is also the Drone Dome C-UAS Laser System developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems that can track down rapidly moving targets (as small as 0.002 sq. meters) and bring them down in one fell swoop.

Though military-grade lasers are capable of destroying drones very easily, they aren’t usually used where human populations are present. This is because lasers are powerful and lethal- and a destroyed quadcopter or UAV can easily crash into a city and cause some damage to civilians. Borders are one place where military lasers are used to enforce tight security.

Can mirrored surfaces protect drones from lasers?

Usually, high-powered lasers work by tracking the position of a drone. Equipped with wide-field and intermediate-field passive infrared cameras, fine trackers, and active trackers, these will place a tiny laser on the target and the high-powered laser will be focused with the help of field programmable gate arrays.

This is powerful enough to take down even missiles and artillery, and over four decades of research and development have gone into this technology.

Mirrors do wonders in movies and deflect any beams but in real life, there are two main reasons why this approach wouldn’t work.

using mirrors to reflect laser beams

First, drones have vulnerable components like propellers and cameras that aren’t shielded by mirrors. Second, even if you had a drone shielded in clean mirrors all over, the high electric field strength from powerful lasers would easily melt the drone surface (and any internal circuitry). The plasma produced during ionization (by laser beams) would further degrade the nearby mirror surface- and destroy the drone with ease.

Other than mirrors, which, let’s face it- aren’t very effective, drones can also use defensive lasers that can compute the power, pulse, and wavelength of incoming laser beams. The drone (with a defensive laser mounted) will try to trick the attacker into thinking that it has hit the target, then attack the attacker.

Closing Thoughts

Using laser pointers to bring down drones certainly works but it’s not something you should do on a whim. Even if somebody is harassing you by flying a drone over your property, you can get fined and jailed for pointing lasers at quadcopters.

Low-powered lasers aren’t much of a threat to drones but high-powered class 3R, 3B, and class 4 lasers can certainly cause significant damage to drones. The damage to the drone isn’t really due to interference (unless it’s a toy drone) as much as it is from the laser being able to melt the drone enclosure and damage internal circuitry.

If you liked reading this post, you should probably check out our guide to choosing the right drones as a beginner. While shooting drones with lasers does sound fun, it’s not something I would recommend trying as that would be illegal.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it possible to have mirrored surfaces on quadcopters that reflect lasers?

Mirrors do reflect lasers to a limited capacity, but when there are high-powered laser beams, mirror surfaces will easily melt and allow lasers to destroy the internal circuitry of the drone.

Can lasers cause damage to the skin?

Even small powered lasers of 15mW can cause second and third-degree burns, and you won’t damage your eyes by looking at Class 1 or Class 2 lasers. Class 3R, 3B and Class 4 lasers can blind you permanently, so you shouldn’t be operating those carelessly.

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