Emerging laser technologies provide advanced ocean floor imaging capability compared with sonar, and as an imminent U.S. patent shows, Florida Atlantic University is at the forefront of demonstrating their potential. Fraser Dalgleish, Ph.D., director of the FAU ocean visibility and optics lab at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI), has received a Notice of Allowance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office pursuant to his Method and Apparatus for Synchronous Laser Beam Scanning patent application, an indication that the patent has been allowed for registration. Phoenix-based Lincoln Laser Company provided essential technology and testing consultation, and shares patent rights.
Mapping the ocean floor by optical means is complicated by factors such as variability in water opacity and particulate composition, high seabed relief and the presence of ambient light. Synchronous laser beam scanning compensates for these challenges, permitting identification-quality image resolution at distances well beyond that required for similar quality using a typical camera and light source, as well as the potential for improvement in 3-D imaging of underwater scenes when compared to sonar. Strategies include use of a pulsed laser, separation of laser source and sensor, and coordinated sweeping movement of the laser and sensor to simultaneously target the same specific, limited area and produce a mosaic image of the seafloor.
Although the system set a new standard for undersea laser imaging performance, current research focuses on further improvements in the performance, size and affordability of laser line scan technology. As such, this soon-to-be patented platform is used as a laboratory validation tool for ongoing research. Harbor Branch and Lincoln Laser are in the process of building a system for the U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command. In addition to scientific characterization of marine habitats, undersea laser imaging has national defense applications.
"Designing and verifying systems like this requires leading industry professionals, using the latest software tools and advanced fabrication and testing facilities," said Dalgleish.