LIDAR, or Light Detection and Ranging, is a remotely located system mounted on airplanes that collects topographic information from a designated location. This amazing technology is currently, exclusively used by NASA and NOAA, or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to observe and record changes in topography along the world’s shorelines. The information collected for this system, is done so by utilizing airplanes with laser ranging technology onboard. The equipment is very precise and it’s critical that there are no defective products. From high altitudes the hardware and software work together and produce very accurate results, and can measure within 6 inches of the shorelines actual, vertical location. Once baseline numbers and information has been collected, additional flights and measurements can be taken at any time, in an effort to locate changes.

LIDAR equipment currently exists in 3 different forms, which include range finders, DIAL, and Doppler Lidars. This hardware uses the same basic concept as RADAR, which is sending a ray of light out towards an object and receiving some reflection back in return. The resulting data is then analyzed for conclusive information like distance and changes. Range finders simply measure the length of time that it takes to get from the source to an object, which determines the distance. Though advanced, these are presently the most basic design of LIDAR, available. DIAL, or Differential Absorption Lidar, was designed for measuring and calculating the chemical composition of the atmosphere. This has proven useful for examination of the ozone, pollution levels, and water density. This technology relies on a pair of lasers that travel to the targeted molecules and based on the properties of absorption and reflection, data is acquired. The final LIDAR type is the Doppler Lidar that is used to calculate an objects specific velocity. This is used to determine if objects are moving closer to or further away from the initiating source. This type of technology is useful in the various industries, such as law enforcement and military applications. When the laser from a Doppler Lidar leaves the source it travels until hitting a moving target, which results in some reflection and some shifting in the light. The instrument can then read the returning wavelength of the laser and properly determine an objects direction of travel. Longer wavelengths indicate that the target is moving away and shorter wavelengths show the contrary. This is how police officers, and various other law enforcing agencies, can tell if a vehicle is speeding or not. The advantage to the LIDAR over the RADAR technology is both the speed and precision at which it operates. It’s a good bet that all law enforcement will migrate to the superior equipment, in time as budgets allow. Civilian laser detectors usually provide no warning of upcoming police Doppler lidar use either because it is simply too fast.

LIDAR technology has allowed major advancements in the effectiveness of measuring distance, speed, changes in topography and chemical compositions. It is likely that this is just a starting point and more scientists and law enforcement agencies will begin taking advantage of the laser oriented technology, and all of the benefits that it has to offer.  While RADAR is far from obsolete, using it coupled with LIDAR equipment creates a much higher level of precision and efficiency.