Working in a similar way to radar and sonar, but using light waves rather than radio or sound, lidar sends out laser pulses and then measures how long it takes to bounce back.

In doing so, it allows autonomous or semi-autonomous cars to create 3D models and maps of their environment, thereby making sense of the world around them.

So far, so familiar, right?

An ambitious new project from two professors at Colorado State University wants to use the same technology to also make sense of the world — only instead of just making sense of the world directly around them, they want to make sense of the entire world — by using lidar to scan the total surface area of planet Earth.

“The Earth is changing so quickly that we have limited time to create these 3D records that can be preserved for future generations,” Dr. Chris Fisher, professor of archaeology at Colorado State, told Digital Trends.

“This is truly the ultimate gift that we can leave for future generations.”

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