In the near future, laser-based detection systems will allow military aircraft to identify enemy ground vehicles accurately in battle zones and permit spacecraft and robotic vehicles to navigate safely through unfamiliar terrain. The technology is built around highly sensitive optical detectors that measure minute amounts of reflected laser light. These systems do three-dimensional modeling of scanned objects in real time, offering missile defense systems the capability to differentiate between re-entry vehicles and decoys.
Advances in visual processing may soon allow robot vehicles to travel autonomously across battlefields and city streets. Researchers are developing mathematical models that offer insight into how mechanical and biological systems interpret images for movement and navigation. The answers will provide a key to designing more sophisticated automated guidance systems for commercial and military use.