For the love of LADAR
Captain and entrepreneur Jorgen Grindevoll believes that laser-based remote sensing and computer vision has immense potential in the maritime domain. But what is LADAR, who is it for and what are the key benefits?
Ladar Ltd (LDR) team has been perfecting their advanced LADARTM (Laser Detection and Ranging) sensor technology for some years now. The company was spun off from an EU-funded project that produced an early prototype. As the commercial vehicle for funding capture and product development, LDR gives critical mass to the founding consortium of Global Maritime Services Ltd, Offshore Monitoring Ltd and Hjelmstad AS. “Our mission is to be the world leader in innovative maritime sensor products that enhance the safety and security of shipping and all manner of offshore activity,” says CEO Jorgen Grindevoll.
In the sensor vanguard
Essentially a laser-based navigational aid, LADARTM and visual and thermal cameras combine long-distance object detection with high-accuracy measurement, giving users a full 3D 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, plastic, floating container, icebergs, whales, or small craft to environmental factors such as waves or pollution.
The system’s proven capability to detect, characterize, 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. It can be configured to different light bandwidths as required.
In a league of its own
LADARTM outperforms both radar and sonar through its ability to detect both smaller and larger objects in the surface layer. Computer vision with advanced AI algorithms allow for above water surface detection at long ranges of several nautical miles. 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 visualized on an intuitive, customizable 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.
All this makes LADARTM the only cost-efficient sub-surface tool that can be tailored to many maritime and offshore applications. The system has many immediate benefits. Our research indicates it can increase safety with a potential 50% reduction in navigational risk. That means fewer dry-dock visits due to accidents and collisions, reduced costs and extended vessel lifetime.
LADARTM 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. Right now, there are no other laser sensor solutions combining computer vision in the market with the kind of performance our system offers. Whatever alternatives there are have less range, are bigger and less adaptable.
Focus on 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. Last summer, for example, we were in the Mediterranean doing tests on plastic detection with very positive results. LDR has conducted trials on board 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.
Our LADAR team has 100 years’ of combined expertise in sensor systems, software and electrical engineering. We also cooperate with several experienced sea captains to ensure the system meets end-user needs and to keep tabs on market trends. Jens Hjelmstad, the lead at Hjelmstad AS, has over 30 years of experience in coordinating and leading advanced sensor system development programmes. For the past 15 years, he has managed microwave and optical sensor research programmes as an adjunct professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). He also lectures at both graduate and Ph.D. levels. Earlier, he had also worked for 15 years in the corporate world at Ericsson. Meanwhile, LDR retains close links with leading European academic institutions such as Chalmers University, NTNU, the Cyprus Institute and the University of Cyprus, to name a few.