DARPA officials chose Princeton Lightwave for the Laser Radar Technology (LRT) program, which seeks to develop innovative laser and detector technology in support of advanced ladar systems.
Ladar, also known as light detection and ranging (LIDAR), measures the distance to targets by illuminating the target with laser light and analyzing the backscattered light. Essentially ladar does with light what radar does with RF energy.
Scientists in the DARPA Strategic Technology Office have been working on the LRT program since September 2012 when the agency released the original solicitation. Princeton Lightwave, so far, is the first and only contractor on the program. More may follow.
Princeton Lightwave researchers will work on laser transmitter technology that generates variable-duration pulses that can support high-frequency modulation. DARPA officials want the company to work on laser transmitters and receivers that operate at a nominal eyesafe wavelength.
Princeton Lightwave laser experts will focus on two areas of ladar technology research: detector arrays and laser sources.
Laser detector array research seeks to support advanced ladar systems with sensors able to detect optical backscatter from different laser transmit waveforms. These detectors must operate not only in a direct-detection mode, but also in coherent detection mode.
Laser source research seeks to develop high-efficiency, high-power, laser sources able to support direct and coherent detection waveforms -- or generate high- and low-duty factor waveforms with frequency and phase modulation.
The military is interested in ladar for high-definition imaging systems that collect enough detail to identify targets, such as tanks, aircraft, or humans on foot.
Examples of military applications of ladar include the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) for counter-mine warfare. Other military applications of ladar may involve detecting and discriminating biological warfare agents.
The military also is interested in ladar for unmanned vehicles navigation and guidance -- particularly for enabling unmanned aircraft and unmanned ground vehicles to avoid obstacles. Ladar as a target-detecting and -tracking system is considered to be more difficult to detect and jam for enemy forces.