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Laser scanning the next generation of detection technology

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.(Aug. 2, 2021) - From archaeology sites to self-driving cars to the testing labs at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center, LiDAR is revolutionizing scientific disciplines.

Light Detection And Ranging is a type of laser-scanning which captures extremely accurate, high-resolution 3D data by releasing laser pulses that go outwards until the waves reach the designated object and then bounces back to the receiver.

It is a technology that military scientists developed decades ago to detect satellites, but today is being used for a plethora of possibilities. For the U.S. Army, LiDAR is a valuable resource because it is more sensitive to motion and movement of an unknown object than RADAR and SONAR. Think of all of the uses for RADAR – Radar Detection And Ranging – which uses radio signals for detecting objects and SONAR – Sound Navigation And Ranging – which uses sound waves. While LiDAR and SONAR use the same wave principles, light travels a million times faster and is billions of times more sensitive than sound.

“We can see a threat much farther away and moving at high velocities,” said DEVCOM AvMC’s Norm Gifford, who works with the Software-Defined Range-Doppler Imaging LiDAR System in the Software, Simulations, Systems Engineering and Integration Directorate. “That benefits the Warfighter, allowing them to see threats sooner. Additionally, certain parts of that object can be scanned in order to determine whether it has a propeller or an engine with moving parts, or if it is moving at a speed to characterize the object. There is a lot of information that the Warfighter can gain from using this system.”

LiDAR has been utilized in Guatemala to discover Mayan ruins until now hidden under dense brush, as seen on the National Geographic special, “Lost Treasures of the Maya,” on Disney+. Scientists use it in glaciology when studying climate change. Apple aficionados even have their own personal LiDAR, with the iPhone’s new LiDAR scanner which enhances its photo capabilities.

Gifford recently demonstrated AvMC’s LiDAR system, known as the Optocorrelotron, for S3I Director Dr. James Kirsch and the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command’s Technical Director Thomas Webber at the Advanced Measurements Optical Range facility. AMOR is a compact indoor Laser Detection and Ranging measurements facility designed to develop and test advanced LiDAR sensing and measurement concepts. The system provided advanced capability for target identification at a very long range and with the target moving at high velocities.

Future applications include platform target identification, aim point selection, range instrumentation support, weapon defenses and mapping.

“Modernization is much bigger than the Army’s six modernization priorities,” Kirsch said. “There is modernization happening all of the time in systems already in the field, fixing current problems and creating new capabilities.”


The DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center, headquartered at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama, is the Army’s research and development focal point for advanced technology in aviation and missile systems. It is part of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. AvMC is responsible for delivering collaborative and innovative aviation and missile capabilities for responsive and cost-effective research, development and life cycle engineering solutions, as required by the Army’s strategic priorities and support to its Cross-Functional Teams.

By Katie Davis Skelley, DEVCOM Aviation & Missile Center Public Affairs



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