News | Nov 3, 2017

The Navy’s underwater imaging technology everyone is talking about

TechLink tees up cutting-edge laser imaging science for small businesses

News Article Image of The Navy’s underwater imaging technology everyone is talking about

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division engineer Dr. Linda Mullen demonstrates a laser used in underwater optics at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., on March 6. Mullen patented a new encoding method for laser imaging, which offers possibilities for both fleet and commercial use. (U.S. Navy Photo)

TechLink is now offering to private industry partners a novel laser imaging technology invented by engineers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division that can see through murky waters.

The technology, target imaging in turbid medium, encodes a laser with a radar signal to improve the performance of underwater imaging systems.

“We program the laser with information about how the laser is scanning the object,” said co-inventor Linda Mullen. “Therefore, the light reflecting off the object and the surrounding environment contains all the information needed to accurately create an image.”

Typical underwater laser imaging systems use a transceiver. Mullen and her colleague Alan Laux improved the technology by placing a transmitter and receiver on separate platforms.

The remote receiver wirelessly collects the radar-encoded laser light from the transmitter and translates the information, while an image processor turns the digitized signal into an image.

“It’s a new way of thinking about things,” Mullen said. “In acoustics and radar, they’ve been doing these kinds of approaches for a long time. This is very new for optics.”

Their patented method allows for better image quality and larger operating ranges than traditional underwater optical imaging systems.

With the separate platform approach, the receiver can potentially be airborne, shipboard or on an underwater stand. It also makes it possible to use a smaller platform, which allows the laser source to get closer to the object in question without stirring sediment.

Commercial uses for the technology have been demonstrated. And TechLink is facilitating license agreements with the Navy by marketing the technology to private companies interested in using it to enhance existing products or create new ones.

“This addresses the ongoing difficulty in identifying and tracking objects underwater,” said Dan Swanson, senior technology manager at TechLink. “Cloudy and murky water is just difficult to work in.”

Swanson said that offshore oil and gas exploration companies, bridge engineers, law enforcement and port security firms, and marine biology and underwater topography organizations should be aware of the opportunity to license the technology from the Navy.

Troy Carter can be reached at or 406-994-7798.

Up next: How to license technology from defense laboratories

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