Jul 1, 2009 | 4
When it comes to mapping the ocean floor, lasers can capture fine details even better than the sonar. However, while sound waves excel at cutting through dense materials, light waves move best through empty space, making it difficult for lasers to penetrate the ocean's murky depths.
Researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute think it's possible to overcome the problems of undersea laser imaging by deploying swarms of automated robots to do the job.
Working together, these bots could function as a giant laser-imaging network and provide broader, faster coverage of the ocean's bottom. The approach could aid in the identification of objects (such as mines) that endanger shipping and military operations, researchers say.
These robotic laser networks may also provide a more holistic view into the ecology of endangered coral reef habitats, says Fraser Dalgleish, the project's principal investigator and an assistant research professor at Harbor Branch in Fort Pierce, Fla.
Feb 23, 2009 | 11
Nearly a decade ago, Leik Myrabo shared with Scientific American readers his vision for the future of space travel: a "LightCraft" pushed out to the stars by a pulsed infrared laser beam from the ground or pulled into space by a laser beamed down from a solar-powered station orbiting Earth. (Read the article here.) Myrabo, an associate professor of engineering physics at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., described in his April 1999 article a grand plan for constructing these orbital stations and a beamed-energy craft that could transport passengers out to space.
Ten years—and reportedly 140 test flights using small prototypes—later, he foresees laser flight carrying people around the globe and into space by 2020, Wired.com reported from "Expanding the Vision of Sustainable Mobility," a conference hosted last week by the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. For this scenario, ground-based lasers called LightPorts would provide the energy needed to propel the crafts, although Myrabo acknowledges that this won't become viable until more powerful lasers are developed and jet fuel becomes expensive enough to force the aviation industry to search for an alternative.
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