The space agency is awarding $750,000 to Cang Ye's department at the University of Arkansas to develop a 3-D Flash Lidar.
He has three years to come up with a prototype that can map landscapes, navigate rovers or robots and measure distances using infrared technology.
"Lidar" stands for Light Detection and Ranging. It incorporates lasers to analyze data.
According to a news release statement from NASA, the agency awarded a combined total of $12.6 million dollars for 17 proposed projects from 15 universities and organizations.