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EricBall's Tech Projects - Laser Vector Display


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Earlier this month the family and I spent a week camping at (nee Six Flags) Darien Lake - riding roller coasters & other rides plus roasting marshmallows & drinking beer. Every night DL has a laser & fireworks show set to music. (Unfortunately the same one every night.) The laser show part of the show in particular was particularly impressive and would have made Pink Floyd (from 40 years ago) green with envy - complex animated scenes in full color. (Probably restricted more by the creation tools and software capabilities than the actual hardware.)

But seeing what a modern laser projector is capable of got me to thinking - could one be used as a replacement for a vector monitor (e.g. Asteroids and Tempest)?

But then I suspect was others probably had had the same thought - and there's probably a big reason why I've never heard of a laser version of Tempest. Of course, last week's insurmountable problem might be this week's trivial solution. So I started with a little investigation.

To make a long story short, the limiting factor is moving the beam. A vector monitor uses electromagnets, while a laser display uses mirrors - typically using a variation of a "mirror galvanometer" or galvo. People have made their own galvos using the voice coil actuator from a hard disk (which is what moves the heads across the disk). But electromagnets can change the position of the beam from one side of the monitor to the other in 100-300 microseconds, whereas it requires 10-20 milliseconds to move the head across the entire disk. That's 100 times slower and a bigger challenge than I think can be easily overcome.

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