A Novel Contactless Technique to Measure Water Waves Using a Single Photon Avalanche Diode Detector Array

Rui Zhang, Sam Draycott, Istvan Gyongy, David Ingram, Ian Underwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Commonly deployed measurement systems for water waves are intrusive and measure a limited number of parameters. This results in difficulties in inferring detailed sea state information whilst additionally subjecting the system to environmental loading. Optical techniques offer a non-intrusive alternative, yet documented systems suffer a range of problems related to usability and performance. Here we present experimental data obtained from a 256 x 256 Single Photon Avalanche Diode (SPAD) detector array used to measure water waves in a laboratory facility. 12 regular wave conditions are used to assess performance. Picosecond resolution time-of-flight measurements are obtained, without the use of dye, over an area of the water surface and processed to provide surface elevation data. The SPAD detector array is installed 0.487 m above the water surface and synchronized with a pulsed laser source with a wavelength of 532 nm and mean power < 1 mW. Through analysis of the experimental results, and with the aid of an optical model, we demonstrate good performance up to a limiting steepness value, ka, of 0.11. Through this preliminary proof-of-concept study we highlight the capability for SPAD-based systems to measure water waves within a given field-of-view simultaneously, whilst raising potential solutions for improving performance.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberrspa.2020.0457
Number of pages20
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences
Early online date10 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2021


  • single photon avalanche diode
  • water wave measurement
  • specular reflection
  • optical profiling


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