Improved LADAR
Navy SBIR FY2008.2

Sol No.: Navy SBIR FY2008.2
Topic No.: N08-147
Topic Title: Improved LADAR
Proposal No.: N082-147-1002
Firm: Advanced Optical Systems, Inc.
6767 Old Madison Pike
Suite 410
Huntsville, Alabama 35806
Contact: Stephen Granade
Phone: (256) 971-0036
Web Site:
Abstract: Visually degraded environment (VDE) conditions pose a threat to Navy and Marine Corps helicopter by dramatically decreasing pilots' situational awareness. Brownout and whiteout conditions are especially dangerous. Sensors such as laser radar (LADAR) imaging sensors can see through dust, snow and fog by gating past obscurants, but in order to provide the pilot with imagery that most closely resembles what is outside the aircraft, the spatial resolution, range accuracy, and fields of view of existing LADARs must be improved. We will address this by improving an already state-of-the-art real-time flash LADAR system built by Ball Aerospace. We will improve LADAR resolution by fusing its 3D information with 2D information from a high-resolution infrared or visual camera or from an obscurant-penetrating millimeter wave radar, producing resolution on the order of a megapixel visible camera. We will improve range resolution using variable offset delays and intelligent interpolation. We will improve the LADAR's field of view using wide field-of-view optics and a non-inertial scanning system such as counter-rotating Risley prisms. Our improvements will be applied in real time and produce imagery comparable to what the pilot would see outside the helicopter.
Benefits: The result of this project will be a LADAR that, through greater image and range resolution and field of view, enhances pilot situational awareness and lets the pilot detect and identify objects and terrain features even in visually degraded environment conditions. For the Navy and other branches of the military, the benefit will be in decreasing accidents in brownout and whiteout conditions. For commercial applications, the improved LADAR's ability to provide situational awareness of a landing zone will be of interest. For instance, the utility of air ambulances has been questioned, in part because of their safety record: in the first two weeks of 2005 alone there were three fatal accidents involving air ambulances. According to Johns Hopkins University epidemiologist Susan Baker, if air ambulance crews work 20 hours a week for 20 years, they face a 40% chance of being involved in a fatal crash. (Civilian aeromedical crash rates are comparable to Army ones.) Another market is rotorcraft used in aerial firefighting. Aerial firefighting often involves operation in a VDE due to smoke, and the environment is often filled with dangerous obstacles. An improved LADAR could make the difference between safe operation and a crash.