News | Mar 20, 2020

New Navy R&D, optical vortex filtering, improves object detection in murky water

High-tech R&D available for commercialization via license agreement

Detection of objects in turbid air and water is impeded by light attenuation and the adverse effect of incoherent scattered light (“clutter”) on the coherent non-scattered light returned from an object. The Navy’s optical vortex detection method improves the distinction between the two kinds of light and thereby improves discrimination between object and clutter.

Navy photo

A novel technology for detecting objects in murky water was developed by the U.S. Navy and is now available for commercial applications.

Scientists at the Naval Air Warfare Center’s Aircraft Division have recently devised a way for light to cut through the clutter and focus on objects rather than floating particles.

Brandon Cochenour, an engineer at the Navy research facility, developed the technology using the optical properties of Orbital Angular Momentum (OAM).

A filter in front of a CCD camera twists the light to leverage OAM and improves the distinction of objects from clutter.

The OAM-based technology could be a game-changer in improving object detection several times over, not only for divers but for LiDAR guidance systems and broadband communications.

Brandon Cochenour, an electrical engineer at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, demonstrates how twisted light travels through ocean water. (Navy photo)

“Initial laboratory results show that the ballistic target return can be detected 2-3 orders of magnitude below the backscatter clutter level,” Cochenour and his colleagues wrote in a research paper on the technology. “The results suggest new optical sensing techniques for underwater imaging or LiDAR.”

With this most recent invention, Cochenour and his team continue to pioneer the use of “twisted” laser beams that can enhance sensing, imaging, and communications undersea, as well as in air and fiber, with applications in industries like oil and natural gas, autonomous automotive, wireless communications, and environmental monitoring.

The patent-pending technologies are now available to private businesses for commercialization via TechLink.

Dan Swanson, senior technology manager at TechLink, has been in recent communication with Cochenour and thinks several industries would benefit from the Navy’s research. Swanson, experienced in technology transfer, said companies should review the technology and then acquire the intellectual property.

“The optical vortex technologies represent an incredible advancement in our ability to detect objects through murky water or dusty air,” Swanson said. “It’s got a multitude of applications from military use in navigation equipment to commercialization in the form of diving equipment or vehicle sensors. It’s really a remarkable set of inventions.”


For more information on licensing this Navy technology contact Dan Swanson at dss@montana.edu or 406-994-7736.