ANCHORAGE, Alaska – If you get stranded on the side of the highway in Alaska in winter (or many parts of Northern Canada for that matter), you’d better get help fast.
Traditional pyrotechnic roadside flares that typically only last for a matter of seconds or minutes won’t always be enough to signal for help, especially in remote areas or during bad weather. But Greatland Laser, a small manufacturing company in Anchorage, Ala. has developed a solution that is gaining popularity in the transportation industry.
The company manufactures small, hand-held lasers that can throw light miles into the air. Better yet, the beam grows wider as it gets further from its origin.
“What we have is an expanding line of light,” explains Greatland Laser chief executive officer, Kim O’Meara. “This expanding line of light gets longer the further out you go, so at 16 miles, that’s 6,000 feet of light so you’re covering a very broad area where someone can see that signal.”
Regular laser pointers on the other hand, do not get longer as they get further from their origin, so trying to signal for help using a regular laser is far more difficult as you would have to hit your target much more precisely.
Another advantage over traditional roadside flares is that they are non-flammable and non-hazardous. So a tanker truck that turns over while hauling dangerous goods can use the flares without worrying about creating an explosion as could be the case with traditional pyrotechnic flares.
“You don’t have to worry about using them when you have hazardous materials like fuel on a site,” says O’Meara.
All of Greatland Lasers models are hand-held. They’re popular with drivers, as they can be attached to a key chain or to the end of a standard Mini-Mag flashlight.
“A lot of people are carrying them with them all the time so if they have an emergency they can signal oncoming traffic,” O’Meara says.
The hand-held models can also be propped up around a disabled vehicle. And the company has plans to expand its product line in the near future, to include models specifically designed to be placed upright around a vehicle.
Visibility is up to 20 miles at night or two to three miles during the daytime, which is far superior to traditional flares. They also cut through snow and fog and can help stranded drivers locate roadside signs.
“One of the things a lot of people use them for is finding reflective materials,” says O’Meara. “All roadside signage has reflective material on it so you can find something with reflective material within a half mile to a mile distance. For instance if someone was caught in a blizzard type condition while driving along or they got stuck out there and were trying to find their way back they could be scanning the horizon with the laser and anything that’s reflective like a sign of any sort would flash back at them.”
The devices are also built to withstand the elements. They are waterproof and can operate in sub-zero temperatures. The smallest model is just two-inches in length and weighs about two ounces. It operates off a watch-type battery and costs about US$89.95. While that’s more expensive than traditional pyrotechnic flares, O’Meara points out: “That would be the equivalent of 300 one-minute pyrotechnic flares but while the initial cost is higher than a pyrotechnic flare, over the lifetime of the product clearly you have much more value (with the lasers).”
The lasers last between five and 72 hours (depending on the model) before the battery needs to be replaced.
The product is available through the company’s Web site as well as at a number of dealers throughout North America.