An innovative laser system to measure the speed of airplanes has been developed by scientists from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Canberra, Australia. The new sensor is simple and cheap, accurate and is not influenced by icing. Current airspeed measuring devices (Pitot tubes) are susceptible to icing and bad weather conditions.
The new technique is based on laser light, meaning there are no physical components in the airflow. Instead they are located inside the aircraft where the temperature can be controlled. The laser measures Doppler effects of oxygen molecules in the air flow.
The laser airspeed meter is not meant as a replacement for conventional Pitot tubes in commercial passenger aircrafts but, according to the researchers, it could be used as a cheap back-up system and provide a second opinion. Current back-up systems are based on GPS receivers but they do not work well either in bad weather.