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Navy supports scientists in taking quantum technology to sea

The Royal Navy's OCTO supported experts from the University of Birmingham and Dstl to test quantum navigation at sea.
16 February 2024
The Royal Navy has worked alongside scientists to continue the next phase of experiments using quantum technology.

The Office for the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) supported experts from the University of Birmingham and Dstl to run quantum experiments that could pave the way for advanced positioning and navigation tools at sea.

In the latest round of testing, the technology was taken to sea on MOD cargo ship Hurst Point to see how the system would work in a real-life setting and to improve the effectiveness of the atomic performance.

Already proven to work on a vessel alongside, quantum navigation has the potential in the future to provide GPS-free navigation, making it less susceptible to jamming, imitation or other sabotage. A new type of accelerometer, it measures how an object’s speed changes over time.

By combining this information with rotation measurements and the initial position of the object, the current location can be calculated. It uses ultracold atoms to make highly accurate measurements which, when cooled to extremely low temperatures the atoms start displaying wave-like properties.

As the atoms move through the sensor, an ‘optical ruler’ is formed by using a series of laser pulses. This allows the acceleration of the atoms to be precisely measured.

By taking this technology to sea, OCTO, the University of Birmingham and Dstl were able to evaluate the effects of ship vibration, motion and acceleration which will lay further foundations for quantum mechanics as navigation systems.

In this experiment, we are advancing novel navigational techniques towards a fully resilient satellite free capability.

Chester Butterworth, Deputy Chief Technology Officer and MOD Project Lead

Chester Butterworth, Deputy Chief Technology Officer and MOD Project Lead, said: “The convergence of the traditional sciences with quantum phenomena will greatly disrupt conventional technology across many operational capability areas, causing evolutionary and revolutionary change.

“Quantum technologies have the potential to solve some of Defense’s most pressing problems, improve our operational advantage, and pave the way to new yet realised opportunities.

“In this experiment, we are advancing novel navigational techniques towards a fully resilient satellite free capability.”

The University of Birmingham project lead Professor Michael Holynski added: “We are excited to be leading this project which could pave the way for enhanced quantum capability for the Royal Navy.

“Building upon developments in the UK National Quantum Technology Programme, including projects funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Dstl and Innovate UK, this next phase of trials will provide the team with valuable insight into future real-world applications at Sea, and the associated challenges this presents.”

The Royal Navy’s Chief Technology Officer Brig Jamie Roylance and his team seek to capitalise on the burgeoning strength of UK quantum research to accelerate it potential uses at sea.

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