Long Distance 3D Laser Camera Images Objects: New Applications for Precise Technology

Catherine Griffin
First Posted: Apr 10, 2013 10:15 AM EDT

The process of creating 3D images has gotten an upgrade. Physicists at Heriot-Watt University have developed a laser scanning camera that can image objects from more than half a mile away.

While the process of 3D laser-scanning is nothing new, the recently developed camera system does possess some features that could make it extremely useful in practical applications. In particular, it can capture laser pulses from "uncooperative" objects, which are objects that are made up of surfaces that don't properly reflect laser light--like fabrics.

The camera works by first bouncing lasers off of distant objects. The device then measures the time it takes for the light to travel back to the detector. This allows it to create light-based images as it calculates how far away each "pixel" is in the picture. Researchers estimate that the 3D laser scanning is accurate by up to one millimeter.

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"Our approach gives a low-power route to the depth imaging of ordinary, small targets at a very long range," said Aongus McCarthy, one of the researchers, in a press release.

The camera itself will most likely be used to scan static, human-made objects--such as vehicles. With a few modifications, though, it could even be used to determine the speed and direction of a moving target. In addition, the device is particularly good at identifying objects hidden behind clutter--this means that it could be crucial in security measures. It could also potentially be used in scientific investigations, including the remote examination of the health and volume of vegetation and the movement of rock faces in order to assess potential hazards.

However, there are a few flaws to the scanner. The camera can't image human skin, since it doesn't bounce back a large enough number of transmitted photons so that it can obtain a depth measurement.

The details of this new device have been published in the journal Optics Express.

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