Airborne 1 Corp.

Core Business: Laser terrain mapping
Employees in 2006: 25
Employees in 2007: 37
Goal: To become the dominant provider of laser terrain mapping technology in the U.S.
Driving Force: Need of public sector agencies, developers and engineers for precise ground
terrain maps

Laser terrain mapping is the hottest thing to hit the land surveying business in decades, and El Segundo-based Airborne 1 Corp. is hoping to ride this trend to the bank.

Airborne 1 is the only California firm specializing exclusively in Light Detection and Ranging or LiDAR mapping, a technology that combines laser and geographic positioning system technologies to produce high-resolution topographic maps and has become more advanced over the past decade.

These maps can be used by real estate developers, road engineers, government agencies, utility companies and others interested in obtaining precise information on drainage patterns, earth removal, power grids and flood control mechanisms. They provide a much more detailed view than conventional aerial maps and can also penetrate vegetation to depict the ground underneath, thus eliminating much of the need for ground-based land surveying.

"LiDAR mapping is the quickest way to get detailed maps of the underlying terrain," said Todd Stennett, Airborne 1's chief executive.

For years, Stennett has been laboring to get Airborne 1's technology accepted in the marketplace with limited success until recently. And now that LiDAR technology is hot, the question for Airborne 1 is whether it will live up to the hype over the long term and allow the company to grow far beyond its 2006 annual revenue of $6.2 million, which was up from $4.3 in 2005

Stennett stumbled onto LiDAR technology in the late 1990s while on a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration internship that was sponsored by the University of Southern California 's Marshall School of Business, where he was a student.

"My assignment was to find NOAA technologies that were ripe for commercialization and come up with a business plan on how to bring one of those technologies to market," he said. Always fascinated by maps, Stennett was drawn to LiDAR, which had been honed by NOAA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Using lasers to map precise distances is not new, of course. In one of their more famous experiments, Apollo astronauts placed mirror arrays on the moon so that laser beams could be bounced off them to determine the moon's exact distance from Earth. Those experiments revealed that the moon is pulling away from the Earth at a little over one inch per year.

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