Product Review: Digital Ally Laser Ally LIDAR
I’ve been tinkering lately with the Digital Ally Laser Ally LIDAR unit, and want to share some observations I think merit attention in this space. Let me say right up front that I am by no means an expert in LIDAR devices, nor am I trained or certified to use them. But as a lifelong geek and gadget freak, I have to say that I think this device is pretty outstanding.
The Digital Ally Laser Ally LIDAR is light, rugged, and incredibly easy to use. In fact, to borrow a phrase, it’s so easy even a website editor can use it.
I failed to get it to fail.
Dark, Wet, and Obstructed
I tested the Laser Ally LIDAR unit in a fairly wide variety of conditions over the course of about two months of intermittent use.
During the early portion of my testing, the long-awaited winter rains hit my adopted home of San Francisco, and twice I stood on a sidewalk, soaked to the skin, just to see how the “Inclement Weather Mode” worked. It works.
During a misty midnight rain, the unit performed very well. I did this test in front of my house in the very small hours of the morning.
At that time of the day, there aren’t too many cars rolling down my steep (really steep) San Francisco street, but those who do tend to drive well over the posted limit. I was easily able to acquire each target in the heads-up display viewfinder and capture the speed every time.
This nighttime test was also a good opportunity to check the wide range of brightness settings in the heads-up display. Because almost everyone on my street had gone to bed, the only light was the ghostly fog-enshrouded streetlamps above.
A few days later, I was at the office, and one of those hum-dinger, typhoon-type, torrential downpours hit the area. I was better situated this time around, taking shelter beneath the eaves of a nearby building.
The storm laughed at my folly, soaking me with windswept raindrops the size of marbles, but the squall did nothing to thwart the speed readings I was getting as drivers foolishly pressed their luck in that weather.
A third test (also on the street adjacent to the Police1 offices) enabled me to try out the “Obstruction Mode” as there are several low trees growing from open dirt squares in the sidewalk.
This feature — which I’m told “nobody else offers” — enables you to continuously track through obstructions without losing your lock on the target.
Truthfully, I had a little bit of a harder time working this feature, but I’m pretty certain it was user error, and not the fault of the equipment. Once I got the hang of it, I was tracking vehicles through the trees with no problem whatsoever.
In all conditions, the heads-up display was easy to read, and the control functions on the back of the unit were easy to manipulate.
How Rugged is Rugged?
The Laser Ally I’ve been tinkering with is tough, but I confess I did not put it through as much of a torture test as I probably could have.
“Your LIDAR system is built to be durable and robust. However, like any precision optical instrument, care should be taken to protect the unit from drops and hard impacts,” reads the operator’s manual.
In a former life, I used to do a little work with a fairly-famous “rugged” laptop company. Once while demonstrating precisely how “rugged” they are, I accidentally destroyed one. Total loss. Whoops!
So, having learned from that experience and having read the operator’s manual — and knowing I didn’t want to return to Digital Ally a box full of useless electronic components — the only impact test I did was to allow the device to drop (once!) from my hand while standing.
Although the “system has a four point rubber cushioning system to minimize the shock of unintended impacts,” I was deathly afraid the impact on the concrete would destroy the device. Gladly, it did not.
The Laser Ally’s waterproof body is composed of a lightweight polycarbonate ABS blend for strength and chemical resistance. It can take a tremendous impact without cracking or deforming, and all the ends and corners are covered with rubber for additional help “absorbing any drop.”
Critical alignment components are then tied together by a second internal die-cast metal four point enclosure that floats in a rubber cushion.
In the box I got from Digital Ally, the ticket printer unit was not included, so I asked my contact at the company to furnish me with a little bit of information on it, because the pairing of the two devices seems like an outstanding idea.
“This is a water-resistant, thermal printer that interfaces with the Laser Ally to automatically input speed, distance, etc., onto customizable tickets,” he told me. “It’s actually a well-established, popular printer for mobile applications but we don’t tell people which specific model it is because we don’t want them to purchase it on their own and expect it to automatically work with the Laser Ally. The printer and LIDAR have to be configured to interface together.”
According to my contact at the company, the Laser Ally contains sophisticated countermeasures to defeat “jamming” devices that are available in the consumer market.
The Laser Ally has been tested by a couple of independent labs using some of the more popular jammers available, and, according to my friend at the company, “the Laser Ally was the only LIDAR not jammed.”
In my research prior to writing this review, I discovered that model-specific batteries are common to a number of LIDAR units on the market — with battery replacement costs often being $100 and up. However, the Laser Ally uses regular “C” size batteries.
I never had this thing on for more than a few moments at a time as I was testing it, but like I said, I’ve been turning it on and off numerous times for months and have not replaced the batteries. That’s pretty awesome.
Another, sort of hidden benefit to having a LIDAR unit (as opposed to typical Radars) is the ability to use it to get precise measurements at accident scenes (I ended up measuring all sorts of distances just because I could).
The heads-up display and the sighting icon give you an awesome ability to acquire oncoming target vehicles with great precision at fairly significant distances. Now, it’s not a magnified optic of course, but still, I was able to quickly get speed readings on numerous, tightly-grouped, approaching vehicles.
One final observation. Using the Laser Ally LIDAR I was able to confirm my longstanding (albeit unscientific) belief that, of traffic on the street beside the Police1 office, the environmentally-friendly Prius drivers and overly-aggressive taxi cab drivers are the only people busting the speed limit (check out the video below, shot about two hours before I posted this column).
So, while I haven’t yet decided whether or not I should send my cough remedy receipts to the folks at Digital Ally, I can report that I will be sad when I have to pack up my T&E unit and send it back to them. The Laser Ally LIDAR is awesome.