A laser, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is a “powerful, targeted beam of electromagnetic radiation that is used in many products, from laser pointer, music players and printers to eye-surgery tools.”

About two years ago, a Coast Guard crew from Air Station Savannah, GA, was carrying out a search operation for two men whose 19-foot catamaran overturned four miles off the coast of Myrtle Beach. The air crew was focused on its task when they were suddenly confronted with a laser strike that forced them to return to base. Fortunately, the two men found the strength to swim safely to shore.

As recently as few months ago, a medevac helicopter was in a critical mission transporting a patient from Dallas. The pilot of the helicopter was blinded by a laser pointed directly into the cockpit. It was a rescue that nearly went wrong. The pilot was severely burned when a smartphone on the ground shined a green laser into the cockpit, striking him in the eyes. The pilot was able to make a landing so he could be rushed to the hospital. Such a laser can produce extremely high amount of energy, causing permanent damage. There have been more than 3,000 events of deliberate and/or non-deliberate laser-beams entering aircraft cockpits just last year. Pilots are extraordinarily vulnerable to this because there’s nothing that they can wear that will respond in real time to protect their eyes.

Laser protection of the eyes is becoming more and more of a priority. And for several years now, MMI has been at the forefront of the search for a proper solution. In the process, MMI has been involved in several inventions and discoveries. Our groundbreaking work in the area of silicone-based polymers is changing the way our commercial partners approach the field. MMI researchers have focused their efforts to improve protection from laser attacks, specializing in the realm of focal plane Optical Power Limiters (OPL).

I have been fortunate enough to be an active participant in MMI’s endeavor. MMI’s OPL material is used to govern the amount of laser light that is passed through a filter, be it a lens or glass. We have been able to prepare a right composition of polymeric material and dye components that, when fabricated into filter/coating, becomes smart enough to detect high power lasers and instantaneously cuts off its transmittance through itself. The optical material is coated onto the filter, allowing low-energy light to pass through normally while clamping down on high-energy light, rendering it safe to the target on the other side, whether it’s electronic sensors or human eyes. MMI has been issued several patents on this technology and it will not be long before it makes its way into real world devices.