Laser technology helps military aircraft spot arms caches

28 June 2013

University of Michigan researchers have developed new laser technology that could help military aircraft to remotely identify hidden weapons arsenals by detecting what the objects are made of.

The laser has been designed to emit a broadband beam of infrared light containing the "spectral fingerprinting range", which can detect echoes of the vibrations of molecules that form a solid substance.

Researchers built the laser using a patented approach from off-the-shelf telecom fibre optic technology and generate the light by taking advantage of the natural physics of the fibre.

It works by shining the laser on the target to reveal its chemical composition by analysing the reflected light, since different substances absorb and reflect different wavelengths.

University of Michigan electrical engineering, computer science and biomedical engineering professor Mohammed Islam said: "For the defence and intelligence communities, this could add a new set of eyes."

Earlier in 2012, the team demonstrated the 5-watt prototype's beam quality and signal level capability, using laboratory instruments and scientific cameras, to the Air Force Research Labs, SAIC, Omni Sciences, and U-M at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base field, US.

Later, the team developed a 25.7-watt version and is currently working on a 50-watt prototype, which is expected to undergo field testing later this year.

In addition to military applications, the new laser device could be used to enhance full-body airport screening technologies.

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