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10/03/2007

LEDs - Decorative and Otherwise

Last week’s column began with the noting of the fiftieth
anniversaries of the demise of two baseball venues in New York,
Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. Will September 30, 2007 be
remembered fifty years from now as another of baseball’s
biggest demises, the loss of a 7-game lead by the New York Mets
with only 17 games to play? And to think that it was Tom
Glavine who didn’t even survive the first inning, a horrendous 7-
run scoring spree by the Florida Marlins. Not so long ago, I
wrote here about a great night spent at Shea Stadium, Ralph
Kiner Night, with Glavine winning his 298th game. Perhaps it’s
best that Shea Stadium is soon to be replaced by a new stadium
unstained by the haunting details of the Mets’ sickening collapse.

This stomach-churning collapse brings to mind an item called to
my attention by Brian Trumbore some weeks ago. The “puke-
ray” is a device discussed in an article by Mimi Hall and Eric
Moreno in the 8/8/07 issue of USA Today. Actually, the name
given to this device by its manufacturer, Intelligent Optical
Systems, is the “LED Incapacitator” but an irreverent Web site
coined the more earthy puke-ray appellation. Recently, there’s
been a good bit of media attention paid to the police use of the
Taser against an unruly student at a political event. The new
LED (light-emitting diode) device, whatever you call it, is an
attempt to come up with a less controversial, yet effective non-
lethal weapon.

When I started working on LEDs roughly 45 years ago, none of
us would have dreamed that LEDs would be as ubiquitous as
they are today. As I’ve probably mentioned before, we had to
look through a microscope to see the light from our early LEDs.
While we foresaw their use in telephones and small rolling
displays of the Times Square type, today’s huge displays
involving thousands or millions of LEDs are mind-boggling.
And we certainly didn’t anticipate that an LED device might find
use as a weapon, by police, the National Guard, air marshals and
the like.

The LED Incapacitator is a device about the size of a flashlight
that is aimed at the eyes of the perpetrator. The device emits a
series of light pulses and colors that overwhelms the ability of
the subject to adjust to the changing photon bombardment. The
result is disorientation and perhaps vertigo and/or nausea, hence
the term puke-ray. The temporary blinding of the subject gives
time for the law enforcement agent to move in and subdue him or
her. It’s to be emphasized that the LED device is not a laser
device, which is capable of permanently blinding a person. (I
hadn’t realized that the U.S.A. is a signatory to a United Nations
agreement banning blinding weapons.)

Here in the New Jersey/New York area, LEDs will be put to a
less intimidating use on two of the crossings of the Hudson River
into and out of New York City. In an article in the September 21
Star-Ledger, Ron Marsico describes a replacement, planned for
next year, of conventional lighting in both the Holland Tunnel
and the George Washington Bridge with LEDs. In the Holland
Tunnel, 1736 LED fixtures will replace over 4200 fluorescent
bulbs. The latter have had to be replaced roughly every 18
months whereas the LEDs are expected to last 15 years. The
savings are predicted to be about $340,000 a year.

The George Washington Bridge project will replace 156 mercury
vapor fixtures with the same number of LEDs, saving an
expected $50,000 annually. The mercury vapor lamps have to be
replaced on a yearly basis. These lights on the bridge span serve
an aesthetic purpose. I remember some years ago my wife had a
room at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital that overlooked the
bridge and it was quite an impressive sight at night. The bridge
and tunnel LEDs should yield a reduction in carbon dioxide
emissions of over 3 million pounds annually, a small
contribution to the slowing of global warming.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if traffic engineers could come up with
some way of eliminating the humongous traffic jams at bridges
and tunnels all over the country? There’s some consolation in
the fact that those stoplights and taillights lit up in those long
lines of stopped or slow moving vehicles also employ energy-
saving LEDs. With the spate of recent articles bemoaning the
huge amount of time drivers spend in rush hour traffic, I give
thanks that for the last 25 years I was employed at Bell Labs, it
was only a 3-mile drive from my home and most of the time I
rode a local bus.

Finally, being an experimentalist, I decided to try to see if I could
mimic the effect of an LED Incapacitator/puke-ray on myself. In
my experiment, I used a small LED flashlight I purchased for
$3.00 at a flea market in Florida back in February of this year.
The flashlight has 9 LEDs but one was burned out when I got it.
(In principle, I should be able to return the flashlight and get a
new one inasmuch as there was a warranty that accompanied the
item. Strangely, the warranty contains no indication of the
company that manufactured the flashlight or any number or
address to contact; there’s also no brand name or other
identification on the flashlight!)

I held the flashlight, which emits a surprisingly intense white
light, at arm’s length and shined it in my eyes while pushing the
on-off button repeatedly. This didn’t give a very rapid on-off
cycle so I decided to leave the flashlight on and blink my eyes
rapidly. While I didn’t get nauseated, I did find it sufficiently
distracting that, had I been a perpetrator, I probably would have
turned my head away and been subdued. As I’m typing this, I
still have the after-image of the diodes when I blink my eyes. So
much for experimentation – brings back memories of more
significant scientific experiences, hopefully.

Allen F. Bortrum



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-10/03/2007-      
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Dr. Bortrum

10/03/2007

LEDs - Decorative and Otherwise

Last week’s column began with the noting of the fiftieth
anniversaries of the demise of two baseball venues in New York,
Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds. Will September 30, 2007 be
remembered fifty years from now as another of baseball’s
biggest demises, the loss of a 7-game lead by the New York Mets
with only 17 games to play? And to think that it was Tom
Glavine who didn’t even survive the first inning, a horrendous 7-
run scoring spree by the Florida Marlins. Not so long ago, I
wrote here about a great night spent at Shea Stadium, Ralph
Kiner Night, with Glavine winning his 298th game. Perhaps it’s
best that Shea Stadium is soon to be replaced by a new stadium
unstained by the haunting details of the Mets’ sickening collapse.

This stomach-churning collapse brings to mind an item called to
my attention by Brian Trumbore some weeks ago. The “puke-
ray” is a device discussed in an article by Mimi Hall and Eric
Moreno in the 8/8/07 issue of USA Today. Actually, the name
given to this device by its manufacturer, Intelligent Optical
Systems, is the “LED Incapacitator” but an irreverent Web site
coined the more earthy puke-ray appellation. Recently, there’s
been a good bit of media attention paid to the police use of the
Taser against an unruly student at a political event. The new
LED (light-emitting diode) device, whatever you call it, is an
attempt to come up with a less controversial, yet effective non-
lethal weapon.

When I started working on LEDs roughly 45 years ago, none of
us would have dreamed that LEDs would be as ubiquitous as
they are today. As I’ve probably mentioned before, we had to
look through a microscope to see the light from our early LEDs.
While we foresaw their use in telephones and small rolling
displays of the Times Square type, today’s huge displays
involving thousands or millions of LEDs are mind-boggling.
And we certainly didn’t anticipate that an LED device might find
use as a weapon, by police, the National Guard, air marshals and
the like.

The LED Incapacitator is a device about the size of a flashlight
that is aimed at the eyes of the perpetrator. The device emits a
series of light pulses and colors that overwhelms the ability of
the subject to adjust to the changing photon bombardment. The
result is disorientation and perhaps vertigo and/or nausea, hence
the term puke-ray. The temporary blinding of the subject gives
time for the law enforcement agent to move in and subdue him or
her. It’s to be emphasized that the LED device is not a laser
device, which is capable of permanently blinding a person. (I
hadn’t realized that the U.S.A. is a signatory to a United Nations
agreement banning blinding weapons.)

Here in the New Jersey/New York area, LEDs will be put to a
less intimidating use on two of the crossings of the Hudson River
into and out of New York City. In an article in the September 21
Star-Ledger, Ron Marsico describes a replacement, planned for
next year, of conventional lighting in both the Holland Tunnel
and the George Washington Bridge with LEDs. In the Holland
Tunnel, 1736 LED fixtures will replace over 4200 fluorescent
bulbs. The latter have had to be replaced roughly every 18
months whereas the LEDs are expected to last 15 years. The
savings are predicted to be about $340,000 a year.

The George Washington Bridge project will replace 156 mercury
vapor fixtures with the same number of LEDs, saving an
expected $50,000 annually. The mercury vapor lamps have to be
replaced on a yearly basis. These lights on the bridge span serve
an aesthetic purpose. I remember some years ago my wife had a
room at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital that overlooked the
bridge and it was quite an impressive sight at night. The bridge
and tunnel LEDs should yield a reduction in carbon dioxide
emissions of over 3 million pounds annually, a small
contribution to the slowing of global warming.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if traffic engineers could come up with
some way of eliminating the humongous traffic jams at bridges
and tunnels all over the country? There’s some consolation in
the fact that those stoplights and taillights lit up in those long
lines of stopped or slow moving vehicles also employ energy-
saving LEDs. With the spate of recent articles bemoaning the
huge amount of time drivers spend in rush hour traffic, I give
thanks that for the last 25 years I was employed at Bell Labs, it
was only a 3-mile drive from my home and most of the time I
rode a local bus.

Finally, being an experimentalist, I decided to try to see if I could
mimic the effect of an LED Incapacitator/puke-ray on myself. In
my experiment, I used a small LED flashlight I purchased for
$3.00 at a flea market in Florida back in February of this year.
The flashlight has 9 LEDs but one was burned out when I got it.
(In principle, I should be able to return the flashlight and get a
new one inasmuch as there was a warranty that accompanied the
item. Strangely, the warranty contains no indication of the
company that manufactured the flashlight or any number or
address to contact; there’s also no brand name or other
identification on the flashlight!)

I held the flashlight, which emits a surprisingly intense white
light, at arm’s length and shined it in my eyes while pushing the
on-off button repeatedly. This didn’t give a very rapid on-off
cycle so I decided to leave the flashlight on and blink my eyes
rapidly. While I didn’t get nauseated, I did find it sufficiently
distracting that, had I been a perpetrator, I probably would have
turned my head away and been subdued. As I’m typing this, I
still have the after-image of the diodes when I blink my eyes. So
much for experimentation – brings back memories of more
significant scientific experiences, hopefully.

Allen F. Bortrum