Geo Week News

October 12, 2012

Lidar at 50,000 feet?

There’s no money in it right out of the gate, but you may want to pay attention to the latest U.S. Air Force request for information, released last week. Should you have the information they’re looking for, you might find yourself part of the “way-ahead for future Air Force airborne lidar capabilities.”

Clearly, the Air Force and the rest of the Department of Defense have found lidar useful, and the RFI mentions usefulness in Iraq and Afghanistan particularly. Which is great. And makes sense. But, also clearly, they’d like to push the envelope a little bit. Here’s the “baseline assumption for the study”:

[T]hat any LIDAR concept would deliver the required performance mounted on the MQ-9 Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft for medium altitude missions, and on the RQ-4B Global Hawk, and/or the U-2 for high altitude missions. The system might be mounted in either a pod (preferred for the MQ-9 application) or in an internal configuration. For the high altitude missions, it should be noted that an internally mounted sensor system is expected. It is anticipated that the LIDAR systems would be required to operate at the nominal altitudes and airspeeds at which these aircraft normally fly.

Okay, that all sounds doable, right? But what kind of altitude are we talking about here?

For the purposes of this RFI, altitudes of 20,000 ft and 50,000 ft above ground level are of interest.

For real?

Anybody got anything for them? As far as I know, even the low end of that is higher than anything that exists in the industry. Riegl’s brand-new LMS-Q780 goes to 10,000 feet (and that’s brand-new). Leica’s ALS-70 system is basically the same, coming in at 3,500m. The Optech Gemini system goes to 4,000m, which is a little bit higher than that, but still well short of 20,000 feet. Maybe I’m reading the specs wrong.

Of course, I can understand what the Air Force is going for. If you’ve got a plane cruising only a few thousand feet overhead, the enemy has a good chance of knocking it out of the air, or at least knowing they’re being observed pretty quickly. At 30,000 feet, the plan is just a speck in the sky. Is it possible to grab 3D lidar data from that kind of height? Truly, I have no idea. Just know that the RFI also wants you to provide near real-time download of that data as you’re collecting it. No problem, right? I mean, planes have wifi nowadays…

Sorry, don’t mean to not take this seriously. Things that seemed the stuff of science fiction just 10 years ago are commonplace nowadays. Interested parties, check out that first link for all the details on submitting information. Georgia Tech Research Institute is under contract to develop and publish the Airborne Lidar Design Study Plan, and they’ll surely uncover technology that’s under development and slated for future release.

And I love that the Air Force just doesn’t mess around: “The government will not provide a debriefing on the results of this survey. Respondents will not be notified of the results of this evaluation. Since this is a Sources Sought announcement only, evaluation letters will be not be issued to any respondent.”

So, you don’t get paid. You don’t get any information on what other people might have sent in. And you don’t even necessarily get to know what they think of your own technology.

“However, AFLCMC/WIN [that’s an acronym that seems to include Air Force] may utilize the information for acquisition planning purposes.”

That could be good…

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