Boeing Creates 3D Maps from Laser Beams

By Eric Beidel
Boeing researchers have added another dimension to maps by shooting laser beams from the air.

The imaging system at first weighed 80 pounds, but now it is no larger than a 20-pound backpack. Boeing’s directed energy systems unit recently tested its three-dimensional camera on board a hot-air balloon in New Mexico, where it scanned the landscape and created maps of the Rio Grande. In October, engineers put it on a helicopter to find out if it could see through obstructions like trees and foliage.

“If we can actually map what’s under a tree, that’s a huge discriminator for our system,” said Mike Rinn, Boeing’s vice president of directed energy systems.

The mapper was able to find a man hiding under a tree with a simulated rocket launcher on his shoulder. Data can also be turned into a hologram to help users determine when something or someone has come to a certain location and then left.

The system already is very sensitive and can detect single photons. It can be used to find caves and tunnels, as well as to map terrain. “The dimensional data gives us another way to look at it than just spectral data,” Rinn said. “It jumps out at you in 3D.”

Boeing now is working on creating a real-time relay so the images can be transmitted from a flying platform to a computer screen on the ground. Rinn hopes to team with a government agency to employ the cameras on small drones.

“That’s where it belongs,” he said.

Topics: Science and Engineering Technology, Space

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