A Bit of History
Steve Orosz invented light beam leveling technology in 1996 for a cardiac monitoring application (U.S. Patent 5836081). Scientists and engineers explored how to apply the technology to other fields, and the laser level resulted. For many years, laser levels were used mostly in large construction and civil engineering. In the past decade, manufacturers have been able to reduce their cost, size and complexity so that they're affordable and practical for many applications.
Types of Laser Levels
Several different types of laser levels are available, varying in application and cost:
- A point generator is the simplest type of laser level. It's basically a spirit level that shoots a laser dot and sometimes incorporates a line generator that can be flipped down in front of the beam.
- Dot lasers project a simple point that can be level, square or plumb. A wide variety of models are available that range in price from $20 to over $500. While the least expensive models are best suited to indoor use, other models can be used outside.
- A line laser is a point-to-point level that can shoot several horizontal and vertical laser lines using multiple LED diodes over a distance of 65 to 100 feet (19.8 to 30.5 meters). Designed for indoor use, they often include plumb up and plumb down capabilities. Some models now include a pulsing light technology that works with a light detector so that they can be used outdoors or in bright indoor spaces. Prices vary from $40 to over $600.
- Rotary lasers levels project a rotating dot to create a 360 degree line. A detector is used for reading the laser lines over a long distance. Most rotary lasers also have single line generators and plumb up, plumb down capabilities. Ideal for outdoor work, such as grading roads, laying foundations, or laying pipe, these are the most accurate and the most expensive laser levels, varying from $250 to over $2,000. Manual and self-leveling options are available, and they can be operated by a remote control. Some rotary levels, designed for grading or foundation work, are so large they need to be mounted on a platform or a tractor.
As its technology was refined over the past decade, laser levels have become more accurate, smaller, easier to use, and more affordable. Once only found on large construction sites, now small and large contractors find that laser levels can turn two- or three-man jobs into one-man tasks.
Today's laser levels allow engineers or contractors to lay out a building or site design more quickly and accurately than ever before, with less labor. In some industries, such as airline and shipbuilding, lasers provide real-time feedback comparing the layout to the actual CAE/CAD files, and it's very likely the same technologies will be available for large construction projects and homebuilding soon.
Some laser levels are even being equipped with Bluetooth wireless technology to transmit their dimensions to a handheld computer, providing site-specific information on the spot.
As laser technology itself improves, the benefits will be reflected in additional features for levels. Self-leveling models and remote control options will continue to grow and improve. And as prices continue to fall, laser levels of all types will find their way into more and more toolboxes.