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UK defence ministry pioneering revolutionary technology to trump GPS

16 May 2014

Though quantum technology is today the subject of exploration in universities and companies globally for potential applications in communications and computation, the UK seems to have forged ahead with cash from the MoD focused on its use in sensing and precision.

The UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been pumping millions of pounds into research on a ''quantum compass'' that would be far more accurate than GPS and beyond the reach of jammers or hackers, with myriad applications that would revolutionise everything from nuclear submarines to your next smartphone.

At the core of the new technology is a field of physics called quantum mechanics which deals with how particles on a sub-atomic level could act as both a physical particle and an electromagnetic wave at the same time.

In Quantum TNS  (timing, navigation and sensing) atoms are cooled down to temperatures a billion times colder than outer space, which very accurately measures movements from a known position, unlike GPS, which relies on triangulation from a network of satellites.

GPS, which is undoubtedly one of the great inventions of the modern age has several limitations, most notably, its reliance on satellites launched into space.

Ultra cold atoms are cooled with lasers to temperatures a billion times colder than outer space and at their lowest energies become the coldest known bodies in the universe.

These slow moving, low energy atoms are extremely sensitive to changes to the magnetic and gravitational fields of the earth and when trapped on a small device, their tiny fluctuations can then be tracked from great distances away and their locations very accurately pinpointed.

The defence industry has  pioneered several new technologies in the past and according Neil Stansfield, head of knowledge, innovation, and futures enterprise at Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL), the potential benefits of a future in which we can navigate by inner space rather than outer space will impact both the military and civilian world.'

'Quantum TNS [Time, Navigation and Sensing] technologies could bring game-changing advantages to the UK defence sector and support markets measured in billions of pounds, here in the UK and around the world, Stansfield said in a release.

'Whilst there are some significant obstacles, it's exciting to see how well-placed the UK is on the global stage to address the significant technical and systematic challenges that remain in commercialising quantum technologies and accelerating exploitation.'


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