The U.S. Patent Office issued its 10 millionth patent last week. It went to inventor Joseph Marron and employer Raytheon Co. in Waltham, Mass., for Coherent Ladar Using Intra-Pixel Quadrature Detection.
That's a mouthful, but it turns out the technology has direct application for driverless cars.
Ladar is related to lidar, but instead of light it uses short laser pulses to illuminate a target and measure how long it takes the light to return. Essentially, it allows long-range scanning of the environment and a 3D view of objects.
The advantage over lidar is that it can also image the target at the same time as determining its distance.
Intellectual property and innovation have helped make America an economic power ever since George Washington signed the first U.S. patent 228 years ago and issued it to Samuel Hopkins for a process to make potash, an ingredient in fertilizer.
Automated vehicles are the next economic frontier and Patent No. 10 million might make them possible.