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"A science fiction story is a story built around human beings, with a human problem and a human solution, which would not have happened at all without its scientific content."
- Theodore Sturgeon

Lidar  
  Radar-like system that uses electromagnetic radiation at optical frequencies (visible light) for range-finding and analysis.  

This is a very cool technology, and one which has real potential for use (and miniaturization).

If you stared carefully into the fog and focused on a point inches in front of your nose, you could see it sparkling, like so many microscopic searchlights, as the immunocules swept space with lidar beams. Lidar was like radar except that it used the smaller wavelengths that happened to be visible to the human eye.
From The Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson.
Published by Bantam Books in 1995
Additional resources -

Lidar stands for Light Detection And Ranging; it is a real technology being explored today. The device sends light out toward a target, which interacts with the target and is changed by it. Some of this light is reflected or scattered back to the lidar device, where it is analyzed. The simplest lidars are range finders (determine the distance to the object). DIAL (Differential Absorption Lidar) is used to measure the concentrations of chemical pollutants in the atmosphere. A DIAL uses two selected laser wavelengths; one is absorbed by the target molecules, the other is not. The difference in the return signals can be used to determine the concentration of the selected molecule in the target sample.

Other names for lidar are laser radar, optical radar and ladar. Find more information about lidar at the LIDAR Tutorial, courtesy of our friends at NASA.gov.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Diamond Age
  More Ideas and Technology by Neal Stephenson
  Tech news articles related to The Diamond Age
  Tech news articles related to works by Neal Stephenson

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