Thursday, July 26, 2007

Laser Range Finders

Bosch, the company known for automotive parts, also has a division that builds power tools. One of their most interesting product lines is a set of laser range finders. The model on the left is a DLE 50. The red button triggers the laser, and a set of optics and an optical sensor triangulate the distance to a visible red laser dot. It can measure distances up to 50 meters with an typical accuracy of a 1.5 millimeters.

The model on the right, the DLE 150 Connect, provides a few more features. Range is up to 150 meters. It also comes with Bluetooth connectivity, allowing it to send measurements to Windows laptops or Windows Mobile PDA's.

They use some of the same optical principles as the Velodyne LIDAR I discussed in an earlier post. They also have a nice industrial design with a tough enclosure and a large button that gives a bit of a kick when triggered. That's great for users who are wearing thick gloves. Unfortunately, these range finders do not yet seem to be available in the US.

For purposes of full disclosure, I must add that at the time I posted this blog, I worked for the Bosch corporation at its research lab in Palo Alto, California.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Moffet Field Hanger

This is Hanger One at Moffet Field, a former Naval Air Station. The US Navy left Moffet Field in 1994, leaving the field to the NASA Ames Research Center. Many of the buildings now house NASA contractors. The airfield sometimes serves Air Force One during visits of the president to the Bay Area.

Hanger One was built in the 1930s to house the USS Macon, a helium filled blimp commissioned by the Navy for scouting. The hanger is 1,133 feet long, 308 feet wide, and covers 8 acres in area.

Hanger One is so large that it can generate it's own unique weather. Fog sometimes forms inside the hanger, near the ceiling. I've heard that it can even rain inside the hanger.

While it is a familiar and significant historical landmark for Bay Area residents, it is an environmental hazard due to asbestos and toxic materials that leach into the area's ground water. The high costs of both demolition or decontamination have thus far prevented any decisions about how to deal with the hanger.