The disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 has exposed some of the inadequacies of existing air traffic control systems and posed a compelling mystery of how an airplane can disappear from radar screens without a trace.
In the meantime, researchers are working on new kinds of radar that could provide clues to the next such mystery, radar that uses short bursts of light to produce a signal that can not only detect an airplane mid-flight, but also cover a wider territory and communicate with the plane at the same time.
In today's journal Nature, a team of engineers from Italy published a study about so-called photonics radar, which uses laser to produce the radar signal, which is then transmitted through a traditional antenna.
"We substitute electronics with photonics," said Paolo Ghelfi, a researcher at the National Inter-University Consortium For Telecommunications (CTIM) in Pisa, Italy and an author on the study. "The first reason is to increase the precision and flexibility of the radar system."