This paper surveys some growth areas in optical sensing that exploit near-IR coherent laser sources and fibreoptic
hardware from the telecoms industry. Advances in component availability and performance are promising benefits
in several military and commercial applications. Previous work has emphasised Doppler wind speed measurements and
wind / turbulence profiling for air safety, with recent sharp increases in numbers of lidar units sold and installed, and with
wider recognition that different lidar / radar wavebands can and should complement each other. These advances are also
enabling fields such as microDoppler measurement of sub-wavelength vibrations and acoustic waves, including non-lineof-
sight acoustic sensing in challenging environments.
To shed light on these different applications we review some fundamentals of coherent detection, measurement
probe volume, and parameter estimation - starting with familiar similarities and differences between "radar" and "laser
radar". The consequences of changing the operating wavelength by three or four orders of magnitude – from millimetric
or centimetric radar to a typical fibre-optic lidar working near 1.5 μm - need regular review, partly because of continuing
advances in telecoms technology and computing.
Modern fibre-optic lidars tend to be less complicated, more reliable, and cheaper than their predecessors; and they
more closely obey the textbook principles of easily adjusted and aligned Gaussian beams. The behaviours of noises and
signals, and the appropriate processing strategies, are as expected different for the different wavelengths and applications.
For example, the effective probe volumes are easily varied (e.g. by translating a fibre facet) through six or eight orders of
magnitude; as the average number of contributing scatterers varies, from <<1 through ~1 to >>1, we should review any
assumptions about "many" scatterers and Gaussian statistics.
Finally, some much older but still relevant scientific work (by A G Bell, E H Armstrong and their colleagues) is
recalled, in the context of remote sensing of acoustic vibrations.