The original (left) and enhanced resolution Flash LIDAR images.

NASA’s Langley Research Center has developed 3D imaging technologies (Flash LIDAR) for real-time terrain mapping and synthetic vision-based navigation. To take advantage of the information inherent in a sequence of 3D images acquired at video rates, NASA Langley has also developed an embedded image-processing algorithm that can simultaneously correct, enhance, and derive relative motion by processing this image sequence into a high-resolution 3D synthetic image. Traditional scanning LIDAR techniques generate an image frame by raster scanning an image one laser pulse per pixel at a time, whereas Flash LIDAR acquires an image much like an ordinary camera, generating an image using a single laser pulse. The benefits of the Flash LIDAR technique and the corresponding image-to-image processing enable autonomous vision-based guidance and control for robotic systems. The current algorithm offers up to eight times image resolution enhancement, as well as a 6-degree-of-freedom state vector of motion in the image frame.

This suite of technologies includes a method, algorithms, and computer processing techniques to provide for image photometric correction and resolution enhancement at video rates (30 frames per second). This 3D (2D spatial and range) resolution enhancement uses the spatial and range information contained in each image frame, in conjunction with a sequence of overlapping or persistent images, to simultaneously enhance the spatial resolution and range and photometric accuracies. In other words, the technologies allow for generating an elevation (3D) map of a targeted area (e.g., terrain) with much enhanced resolution by blending consecutive camera image frames. The degree of image resolution enhancement increases with the number of acquired frames.

Possible applications include precision safe spacecraft landing, automatic spacecraft rendezvous and docking, autonomous rover and robot guidance and control, on-orbit inspection and servicing, robotic ground vehicle collision avoidance and mobility operations, topographical/terrain mapping, and automotive collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, and situational awareness.

NASA is actively seeking licensees to commercialize this technology. Please contact The Technology Gateway at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to initiate licensing discussions. Follow this link for more information: .

NASA Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the August, 2016 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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