2005 Emerging Leaders

Bill Hindman

Developed a laser technology system that allows the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines to better communicate with one another in wartime, saving the government $100 million and enhancing our national defense.

Laser technology is making life easier in unlimited ways—it can warn airplanes that may stray into restricted airspace, enhance the capability of your computer mouse or test the quality of fruits before they get to the supermarket shelf. Thanks to Dr. Bill Hindman, an engineer at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Kirtland Air Force Base in Albuquerque, New Mexico, laser technology is improving the way our armed forces defend the nation.

Laser technology is the use of light as a communications device. Whereas fiber optics used light to communicate over wires, laser technology involves a much larger playing field for light transmission: space.Beaming light to communicate in this way ensures more efficiency and expediency—two critical ingredients in any successful military operation.

Over the past year, Hindman has helped lead a team of government experts in creating laser communications technology that makes it possible for American soldiers from the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force to communicate quickly and easily from different locations around the globe.

To better understand the importance of the achievement, imagine that the different branches of the armed forces were all conducting their communications via different computer systems – Air Force and Army on Windows, Navy on Apple, and Marines on Palm. Hindman and his team created an interwoven system that would allow all of these organizations to “talk” to each other—cutting down on transmission time between users by 90 percent in the process.

The laser-speak is achieved through three processes: pointing, acquisition and tracking (PAT). Pointing is the process of communicating by pointing one laser precisely at another, which can be quite tricky since lasers are very tight beams of light. Acquisition ensures that lasers “recognize” other friendly lasers when they meet in space so that they can transmit information. And tracking is the process of keeping the laser beams aligned despite bumps or vibrations so communications can continue.

By developing a set standard by which laser pointing, acquisition and tracking can be achieved, Hindman gave the Department of Defense a foundation for a universal means of communication that better prepares its military personnel for wartime operations. His work saved the government a total of $100 million—money that would have been spent developing separate laser communications terminals for different tasks.

The laser technology Hindman and his team developed is still being finalized, but the simulation tools they have created and disseminated to military organizations so far are laying the groundwork for a greatly enhanced level of communications capability in the future. And for those soldiers on the ground, in the air, or on the seas, nothing could be more important to their safety and well-being.