back to article US military builds laser backpack for 3D indoor mapping

Military-funded researchers in the US have developed a backpack system containing cameras, lasers and inertial sensors which can be carried around indoors and generate a detailed, accurate 3D map of the spaces it moves through. A portable, laser backpack for 3-D mapping has been developed at the University of California. …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    i like titles! do you like titles.

    the backpack looks really handy and compact. i bet soldiers that don't want to lug heavy things would want exactly this ;) Why didn't they just just add this thing to one of our robotic overlords? The snake one would be a nice fit IMO.

    1. Annihilator Silver badge


      Yes, because every first generation invention in the world is small and svelte the first time it pops up. Of course the first one is bulky.

      1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge


        Just print it on a piece of silicon and it’ll fit in the palm of your hand! Simples!

        Seriously though...when they do miniaturise the thing…that tech + VTOL spy droids they already possess make for some cheap and efficient "canary in a coal mine" droid mappers. Screw the military, these blighters would be excellent for civilian use. Hostage situation? Send in the droid. Suddenly you not only have the building blueprints to plan any necessary assault, but also a comprehensive mapping of any defences the hostage-takers have put in place, office furniture that might impede you, etc.

        Could be a hell of a think for folks who need to check sewers/abandoned subway lines/what-have-you for structural stability before sending wetware down the rabbit hole to shore the thing up for another few decades of wear. This tech has some real possibilities.

        Of course, it could also be the start of those flying “Minority Report” compliance droids. Let’s just ban Google form ever using you up front and save ourselves the grief and enrichment of lawyers worldwide, shall we?

  2. Blane Bramble

    Who you gonna call?

    The post is required, and must contain letters.

  3. Khaptain Silver badge

    Some doubts about this technique

    One of two things spring to mind.

    1 : Since this is probably a tool to be used for the NSA, FBI, CIA or whatever agency requires this kind of info. It would seem to me to be a little overly suspicous that a "janitor" walks around the entire building wearing ~20 kgs of industrial laser, and other high tech stuff, strapped to his back whilst emitting some kind of humming sound and knocking out Mobile phone reception within a 30m radius.

    2 :Couldn't they do the same thing with a Webcam and some kind of remote controlled vehicule. OK the stairs might be a problem depending on the vehicule.

    3 : Wouldn't it be easier to simply get a copy of the building plans. ( or shoot the Architect/Builder and steal the plans, they probably already exist in 3d anyway, CAD/CAM etc.. )

    4 : What kind of muppet would accept to walk around with a laser strapped to their back anyway.

    It's Friday and I'm already planning to make my escape from the office. Can you imagine how much extra work would get done if someone switched of the Internet on Friday afternoons..........

    1. lIsRT


      I suppose they could make it look like a little cart the "janitor" could push, instead of a backpack.

    2. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Not necessarily a spy tool.

      1. The military always appreciates an accurate map, especially one of cramped hostile quarters. They clear a building or tunnel and then map it out. That way, if enemies try to use it again, instead of flying blind, they can look at the map and find the best places to coordinate assaults.

      2. The mapping tech is supposedly 3D, 360 degrees, and automatic, meaning you just have to walk through the place to get a picture. Bit faster and more accurate than a webcam bot (and the tech doesn't even preclude loading it on top of a rover for recon).

      3. Such plans may not exist (especially if the building is improvised). Neither may the architects/builders (who may have fled or be dead). Also, the building may have predated CAD or may be in a technologically-backward location, meaning a computer version of the plan wouldn't exist, either.

      4. Either the tag end of a clearance team (you would use the thing AFTER an area is clear) or loaded on a rover (who probably wouldn't care either way about the load).

  4. MinionZero


    I take it that's the secret portable spy version. :)

  5. Uk_Gadget

    If it fails....

    ..... she can always get a job with GhostBusters!

    1. Guido Esperanto

      Proton pack was my first thought

      just dont cross the damn streams.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    I see one small problem.

    Still some poor sod has to carry it through the tunnels. So not really much use for fighting taliban or terrorist holed up somewhere.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Radio coverage

    Combine it with a radio receiver and it could be pretty useful for checking/logging radio coverage in places like on the tube, ensuring that the police/fire-brigade systems work everywhere, as well as then visualising the data to make it easier to interpret.

  8. Anonymous Coward





    1 a first or preliminary version of a device or vehicle from which other forms are developed:

    "the firm is testing a prototype of the weapon"

    Because clearly some of those here have never come across the word before.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      You are debating prototypes

      on an IT website. IT is an industry where we are regularly subjected to "prototypes" being sold to us as full version product. Just look at the entire Microsoft 2007/Vista generation of product. "Alpha" level product is almost unused anymore. The line between "beta" and "release" blurs significantly...

      ...what exactly does prototype mean to such a crowd? In the hardware world, I am sure it has great value. (Or not. iPhone wot?) Developers have cheated around the edges of the concept, and management/marketing types have blatantly ignored it. Operations guys have suffered the realities of this product development apathy for decades now.

      Prototypes? How droll. They don’t contribute to shareholder value!

  9. Timo

    Does this come with a shark mount configuration?

    Sharks with fricking lasers FTW.

    The next level of Google Streets -> "Google inside your own house"? Help me, I've fallen and I can't get up - let me ask google where to locate the door.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Some of the criticism is just a little unfair

    It a patrol goes wandering through a tunnel complex, its a means of producing a map that can be used by later patrols, unless you are assuming that every patrol then "holds the ground" reconnoitered and signposts it nicely, with no chance of it being re-taken by the enemy.

    The alternative is drawing something (either as you go or later, from memory) which might have to represent a three dimenional complex with accurate measurements, originally only seen with not-too-bright torchlight. If you remember back to your D&D days (go on, we all had them), its probably not so easy to produce something with all the intricacies that might be required for tactical operations.

    As an infanteer, I certainly wouldnt want to be surprised by some enemy lurking in a concealed tunnel that a previous patrol had not noticed.

  11. Anonymous Coward

    Made for Games

    I can see this being put to use for Games! Lidar scans of real buildings, then put into games like MOH, GTA and Swat!

    iracing started it all..

  12. Max Pritchard

    Google RoomView

    How long before someone from Google, wearing one of these, turns up to map my house? Maybe then I can use it to look for my keys - or my cordless phone - or the remote.

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Not long.

      I'm sure they'll get away with "opt out after the fact" as well. "The vast majority of people want Google in thier home. Tigheter integration between consumers and the third half of thier brain helps google to deliver quality advertisements that people want to see. If you don't want Google in your home, then maybe you shouldn't be doing anything in your home that you don't want anyone other people to see."

    2. Anonymous Coward

      I need this as well

      If google can simplfy desktop search, then why the hell can't they do a complete sweep of my house to find things, that I can't bloody remember where I put them.

      A simple algorithm should be possible to "search entire house" for 8Gb SD Card I put away 6 months ago, but forgot where.

  13. JaitcH
    Thumb Down

    The Ontario, Canada has this already!

    Many building interiors in Ontario are already extant on many computer systems used by the fire services, building departments and TAX departments.

    Whether or not the value-for-money of this research is proven, just how many tunnels do the military investigate?

    Seems to me there are better ways to spend taxpayer money.

    1. Blain Hamon

      "just how many tunnels do the military investigate?"

      Little known fact: The Taliban in Afghanistan are not in bunkers and caves underground enough to block GPS and radio, but instead they're holed up in pleasant Ontarioan buildings with all the records up to date for Canadian fire services.

      Furthermore, drug smuggling tunnels on country borders are actually used to carry puppies and kittens, and do not need mapping nor monitoring at all.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Smuggling puppies is a serious crime!

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    It's likely *planned* use is hostage rescue and/or tunnel warfare

    IE places where plans are not available (its a tunnel system in Afghanistan. They don't have a web site) or not available *now* (yes sensible police depts would have a key to the council building records dept or copies of "high value" target buildings plans, but how many expect Alan Rickman and co to come rolling up on Christmas Eve?).

    It's pretty strange that it's taken them this long to come up with this. There are parts of the US Army that know very well what happens when your enemy has tunneled under you, the 25th Infantry Div springs to mind. In fact if they want they can visit Viet Nam, where some of the tunnels are open to the public.

    Mine will be the one with "The Tunnels of Cu Chi" in th epocket.

  15. F111F

    Another Data Stream...

    on the battlefied to manage. If this is going to be with patrols, then it needs be shared with other units, sent up the chain of command for storage/retrieval, and possibly with aircraft/special ops teams/etc. Me thinks we're overdoing this digital thing a tad bit. We already generate video/intel that we can't digest fast enough to be tactically useful, and this will be another log on the fire...

    Mine's the one with the woven-in faraday cage...

  16. This post has been deleted by its author

  17. Peter Clarke 1

    Mark 2

    Next model will be hand-held, have a natty little arc screen, go pip-pip-pip and show a little blip .... just before you get shredded by the alien. Will it come with a red shirt?

  18. Bad Beaver
    Thumb Up

    Can't wait

    I can haz automap!

  19. Anonymous Coward

    @ Blane Bramble

    Post .... (and)

    must contain letters.

    Titter. Chortle. Pint.

  20. hplasm

    Whoosh! *koff koff*

    "Q? Thish jetpack jusht left me shtanding!"

    "You did remember to fasten the locking bar on the power module, didn't you, Bond?"

    "My pantsh are burning..."

  21. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    My wishlist

    I find this technology very interesting. I also happen to have an inordinate amount of interest in underground and ill-defined areas that stay out of sunlight.

    Therefor, I fully expect that there be a wave of mapping endeavors that create accurate maps of such locations as :

    - the Paris underground

    - the Egyptian pyramids and famous tombs

    - the Maginot line

    - every major subway system on all continents

    - all major public buildings (such as famous museums)

    Once the mapping is done, the data should be integrated into an online exploratory website which allows people to "surf" through the various mazes and "see" what they would if they on-site with proper lighting.

    Of course, I realize that there are stupid current conditions like terrorist alerts that will probably ban such mapping attempts in the name of security, but hey, I said it was a wishlist.

  22. genome

    mobile phones

    max 2 years and it'll be in the lastest smartphones, with a default on link to google latitude

  23. TeeCee Gold badge

    Is he serious?

    "We have already generated 3D models of two stories of the electrical engineering building at UC Berkeley, including the stairway and that is a first,"

    Why the hell are we spending money on space / deep sea exploration and expeditions to the Amazon jungle when there are apparently unmapped staircases at UC Berkeley?

  24. Rogerborg

    "Of course the first one is bulky."

    Hey, just wait until it's been through a no-bid tender and been properly "ruggedised". Expect twice the size and about fifty times the cost, most of which will be invested in a fortified Rapture Preparation Compound in North Carolina.

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