email a friend iconprinter friendly iconThe Big, Record-Breaking, Green, Disease-Busting, Deep-Sea, Crime-Fighting IDEAS for 2009
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Photograph by Todd Stennett and Eric Albrecht/Courtesy of Airborne 1 Corporation
Map of the Future

The known world has been charted, plotted, and endlessly measured. Or has it? A groundbreaking mapping technique is changing the way we see the planet.

From hand-drawn to digitally rendered, mapping has come a long way. And now LIDAR (light detection and ranging) is raising the bar. The technique uses laser pulses to construct über-precise 3-D images. It’s kind of like radar, constantly sending out and receiving signals, but LIDAR can map nearly anything. It can image clouds and penetrate forest canopies, measure plankton blooms and cut through water to chart riverbeds. It’s increasing the accuracy of aerial maps by an order of magnitude; indeed, the U.S. Geological Survey is currently working to remap every state with LIDAR. It’s even been used to make music videos—watch Radiohead’s “House of Cards" (below).

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