Secret WWII German Laser Scanning Project Uncovered?

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Russo 1I was working at my desk recently when I received an email from one of my scan techs who found an interesting photo online. He then appeared at my desk and we immediately began to speculate about what it could possibly be. To anyone who is involved in laser scanning the answer was obvious: In that vintage WWII photo, above the doorway and framed between two German guard posts, was a scan target.

Accompanying this photo was an image from the same vantage point, showing how the building looks today sans scan target and guard posts.

Of course, it couldn’t be a scan target since the laser scanner had yet to be developed. In fact, it would be another couple of decades before the first working laser would be invented. But could there have been a secret German weapons project involving lasers? With a little more investigation we discovered that in 1917, Albert Einstein established the theoretical foundations for the laser. Maybe we were on to something. But how could we find out for sure?

I decided to turn to my good friend from Hamburg, Germany, Dr. Christian Hesse. Maybe you’ve seen Dr. Hesse at past laser scanning conferences (such as SPAR) showcasing his ProScan kinematic scanning system. Christian is one of the founders of p3d systems GmbH and has extensive knowledge in kinematic surveying and mobile mapping systems. I figured if anyone would know why the scan target was there, he would.

His initial response offered no suggestions. All he coult tell me was that the location of the photos was actually in France, not Germany. When I inquired as to how he knew this, he said could tell from the street signs and the license plate. He did agree, though, that they were indeed German soldiers standing guard.

Sure enough, the Google link he provided took me right to a street view of the actual location in the photo. I found out that it was located in Dijon, France (where the mustard comes from).

Time was ticking, so I set aside my curiosity so I could actually get some work done. A few days went by then in popped an email from Christian with the answer to our question. No, it was not as we had theorized, there was no super-secret weapons project. He said his father called an old friend who was a general in the German army, and that man said the scan target was the sign of the headquarters of the commander in chief – in this case of the western troops during WWII.

A little more digging around the Internet and we came across a diagram that seemed to confirm the validity of his answer. Mystery solved!  While we never really suspected a secret laser scanning project, it was fun to chase down the answer to satisfy our curiosity.

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About Author

John Russo

John M. Russo, AIA, is an architect, technologist and entrepreneur with more than 30 years of professional experience. He founded Architectural Resource Consultants (ARC), a firm that has specialized in providing outsourced architectural services to the architectural, engineering, construction and facilities management communities since 1997. In 2011, ARC was selected amongst its peers to develop GSA’s Laser Scanning QA/QC Process for the Office of Design and Construction in which Mr. Russo played a pivotal role.

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