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Airborne laser scanning has produced stunning maps and insights in the last few years, such as revealing the faint outlines of a vanished medieval city street grid obscured by the jungle surrounding Cambodia’s Angkor Wat (see “Laser Scanning Reveals New Parts of an Ancient Cambodian City”). The feat required 20 hours of helicopter flight time to map 370 square kilometers to a resolution of one meter.

But in a secure hangar at Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts, the belly of a Bombardier turboprop has been outfitted with technology that could pull off the Cambodian job in about half an hour. The fuselage holds a new LIDAR (light detection and ranging) 3-D imaging system that works with unprecedented speed and high resolution, says Dale Fried, principal developer of the system at Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded R&D center run by MIT.

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