A disk with flashy flights

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Lighting up a Frisbee isn't child's play. The inventors of the Flashflight tapped a number of modern technologies—most important, LEDs and fiber optics—to get a disk that not only would flash but fly.

Light-emitting diodes have been around since the 1960s, but recent advances have made them brighter and capable of producing more colors. They're popping up in all kinds of uses, from flashlights to headlights, and are expected to revolutionize the lighting market over the next decade or two.

Flashflight wasn't the first disk to try LEDs for nighttime play. Others, though, hadn't struck the right balance between light and playability, says Jeff Scott, one of two University of Colorado alumni who developed the Flashflight.

The disk that inspired him, for example, had strung LEDs around the edge. Their brightness tended to blind him at night, Scott says. Not to mention that it shattered after 30 minutes of play. So a friend and now partner, Jerry Moore, thought of using fiber optics to spread the light from a center LED to the edge.

"That was probably the 'Eureka' moment," says Scott. Then came testing various plastic densities, weights, and feels to get a disk that's playable at night, when it's a bit cooler. He didn't want one that would stiffen and slam hands, or shatter because it was too brittle, Scott says. "So we made it a bit softer."

The result was enough a success that Scott could quit a career in the software business. He and Moore started a company that's also licensing their patents to light up other toys for nighttime play. And he's looking at other tech to further the Flashflight family, such as photovoltaic cells to use a bit of sunpower to play at night.