Laser-Ranging System Provides Precision to the Nanometer
NIST creates laser system for ultraprecise navigation of satellites or, potentially, robots.
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed May 26, 2009
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has announced the development of an ultra-precise laser-ranging system that combines two different approaches to range-finding and an “optical frequency comb”—a set of spectrometry tools that can precisely identify the color of light from specific sources. The system combines time-of-flight method of distance ranging and interferometry, a technique that usually involves splitting a single beam at its source and recombining them at the destination, to measure distance or other influences by the difference between the two beams. Inteferometry is frequently used in fiberoptic telecommunications, astronomy and other laser-using specialties.

Using the two methods simultaneously with ultrafast-pulsed fiber lasers that are more portable than comparable crystal-generated laser systems, NIST researchers built a system they said could measure distance to within nanometers on many targets simultaneously. The system could be used to create extremely precise ranging and patterned-flight patterns among satellites, or measurements of ground-based targets. A paper published in the journal Nature Photonics May 24 described the technique.

Light detecting and ranging (LIDAR) is often used in autonomous-navigation robots to give them the ability to identify landmarks, obstacles and other objects in the physical world.

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