There was an interesting paper presented at the recent SPIE 2010 Unmanned Systems Technology XII conference in Orlando, FL. This involved the use of the Velodyne HDL-64E scanner that got its start in the 2005 DARPA challenge. In that application the scanner was being used for collision avoidance on terra firma. Moving into the marine environment always adds complexity to any technology.
The paper provides a number of examples of the effect of object size and range, but it is clear to see that the unit is capable of identifying even small objects like a lobster trap buoy, and wake from a passing boat. The URL provides some insight into the funding source for the research effort – the Navy. It does not take much imagination to see the value and opportunity for this application.