Laser Styli

Laser styli are the multi-purpose tool of choice for space explorers and travellers. They consist in compact, pencil-sized emitters linked to portable batteries, often worn on the belt or in the back. The emitters are tunable lasers, capable of emitting in wide array of visible wavelengths and continuous or burst modes. Custom tips can be added to the stylus to further increase its versatility. The emitter can be easily put apart to clean it, replace lenses and make various repairs or adjustments -- it is a device first and foremost designed for intensive field work in harsh conditions. Standard styli may be used under water and in hard vacuum, though both very hot and very cold environments require active temperature control (often through the use of a reactive socket) to prevent lens damage. The pencils can be sterilized and autoclaved, which allows them to be used for medical procedures on the field.

Plenty of uses exist for laser styli, and the most notable ones are listed below.

  • Illumination of one's surroundings, where the stylus is fitted with a round tip and used as a flashlight or an ambient light.
  • Surface cleaning of samples and equipment, with a stylus fitted with a wide tip and tuned to the adequate laser wavelength to burn coverings of dust, bacteria, atmospheric pollutants and other surface deposits.
  • Cutting or carving of thin pieces of metal or various materials when the stylus is equipped with a focalizing tip and tuned to high wavelength. Sustained cutting sessions will go through lenses quite fast, but styli are more accurate and gentler than industrial cutters.
  • Communication over short distances in vacuum by using the stylus in burst mode and hooking it to a portable communication device. This is often used for ship-to-crew communication in EVA.
  • Self-defence. Laser styli are not strong enough to be a credible weapon (except against some very fragile lifeforms), but when set to the highest intensity they can be used as sensor and eye blinding devices. 
  • Medical procedures on the field, using the stylus as a laser scalpel for surgery or as a scraper for basic dental work.
  • Examination of samples or patients using a thin tip specifically made for transillumination of translucent material.
  • Range finding, when the stylus is equipped with a laser receiver.

Laser styli are generally classified as light personal tools, which means they do not abide by the stricter regulations of industrial-grade laser tools. Given that styli can be tuned to potentially dangerous wavelengths, most designs use a double trigger mechanism where higher frequencies require the operator to press two buttons at once, thus reducing the risks of accidental discharge. Protection goggles or lenses are still advised when using laser styli.

Illustration: NetWeb01, Creative Commons 3. 

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