Dstl looking to develop quantum navigation tech
Understanding the bizarre behaviour of quantum particles is challenging but offers many applicable uses that could benefit the government and businesses in the UK.
At the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), physicists are focusing on quantum technology for navigation and sensing.
Working with experts from UK industry and academia, Dstl is developing deployable devices that will be used to see through walls, around corners and underground.
For example, the ‘gravity imager’ uses cold atom technology to detect minute changes in density caused by spaces such as tunnels or rooms, and create a ghostly picture of the hidden world. For the military, this can detect and map hidden areas, but it could also be used more widely to find, for example, sink holes and buried pipes.
A physicist in Dstl’s Future Sensing Technology team, said: “Quantum-enhanced sensors can detect gravity changes at a very fine scale. We’re working with industry and academia to shrink the size, weight and power of systems, moving from lab-based prototypes to deployable devices. Crucially, these devices retain the ability to perform measurements to a remarkable level of precision.
“We’re also developing mathematical tools to make use of the information that these sensors gather. In the case of the gravity imager, we can go from a collection of individual gravity observations to a three-dimensional image of what the subterranean world looks like.”
Dstl has already helped Thales create a system that can see, image and identity multiple moving targets at range around corners using quantum photonic technology. The precision of the technology means it could, in theory, be used to diagnose medical disorders and detect density anomalies without any invasive procedures.
Quantum can also protect against otherworldly phenomena. Space weather events can interfere with the global navigation satellite system (GNSS), which includes GPS..
A recent government report estimates that five days without GNSS would cost the UK economy £5.2 billion. Quantum-based systems for position, navigation and timing would not be affected. Such systems would also be safe from intentional jamming and spoofing.