Laser sensor tech provides huge potential for maritime industry

Laser sensor tech provides huge potential for maritime industry
The LADAR system uses narrow laser beam scans, providing a full 3D perspective, accurate and real-time surveillance of the ocean including the problematic ocean surface layer.

Research scientist and entrepreneur Sverre Dokken believes laser-based remote sensing has big potential in the maritime domain and could reduce navigational risk by up to 50 per cent.

Laser Detection and Ranging (LADAR) is a laser-based navigational aid that combines long-distance object detection with high-accuracy measurement, giving users a full 2D/3D/4D (3D plus time) perspective for optimal maritime awareness.

The laser pulse scans a specific area or target with over 100 readings per second. Its water-penetrating capabilities enable very high-resolution detection of objects in the surface layer up to approximately one nautical mile (1.85km) distant and up to 10m deep in ideal conditions. “Objects” can be anything from a person, floating container, icebergs, whales, or small craft to environmental factors such as waves or pollution.

The modular design incorporates technologies such as laser diodes together with optical camera, gyros, optional AIS, and/or radar and sonar feeds to produce a comprehensive analysis of the ocean surface layer ahead of a vessel.

LDR principal Sverre Dokken, explained: “The system’s proven capability to detect, characterise, classify and track various surface-layer objects in real-time make it suitable for a wide variety of applications.

“The system overlaps many existing ship radar functions with added benefits, high-speed operation and no latency.”

The system can be configured to different light bandwidths as required.

LADAR, radar, and sonar

LADAR outperforms both radar and sonar through its ability to detect both smaller and larger objects in the surface layer. Sub-metre resolution at close and long range and 1000-times better resolution in azimuth and elevation than both radar and sonar also enable detection of very small objects. The system is independent of speed meaning it can be used on high-speed vessels, while it can also be mounted on any kind of stationary platform.

Data is visualised on an intuitive, customisable graphical user interface (GUI) enabling seamless transition from above-surface, through-surface and below-surface observations. Machine learning helps to continuously improve detection and classification capabilities. Users can also experience the “live” environment using Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/AR).

Data feedback can optionally activate functions such as safe re-routing around navigational hazards, wave spectrum and ocean current observations, charting of marine plastic pollution, uncharted reefs, shoals, moving sand-banks, and so on.

“Our research indicates it can increase safety with a potential 50 per cent reduction in navigational risk. That means fewer dry-dock visits due to accidents and collisions, reduced costs and extended vessel lifetime,” said Dokken.

LADAR can also plug the sensor gap with large amounts of situational data as the industry moves to autonomous operations and e-navigation. LDR is also working on matching the system with drone technology.

“We’re convinced the generalisation of this technology will see new applications still unknown to us.”

Dokken said that there are no other laser sensor solutions in the market offering the same kind of performance as they are often bigger, less adaptable, and have less range.

Performance testing

The LDR lab continues iterative electronic and mechanical assembly to further reduce the size, weight and production cost of the system. “We also focus on performance testing both in the lab and in live settings,” said Dokken. “Last summer, for example, we were in the Mediterranean doing tests on plastic detection with very positive results.”

LDR has conducted trials onboard the cruise ferry Color Magic along its route between Oslo and Kiel, as well as proving its use in fish inventory assessment, bathymetric/sea floor mapping by aircraft and floating mine detection for a navy.

The company currently has LOIs in place with the likes of Team Tankers Management, Hurtigbåtforbundet HRF, The Fjords, GOTA Ship Management, Hargun Havfiske, Barents Nord, the Port of Rotterdam and Grand Large Yachting.

Dokken’s team have been perfecting their advanced LADAR sensor technology for some years now. The company was spun off from an EU-funded project that produced an early prototype.

“Our LADAR team have 100 years’ combined expertise in sensor systems, software and electrical engineering,” said Dokken. “We also cooperate with several experienced sea captains to ensure the system meets end-user needs and to keep tabs on market trends.”