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Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Quantum Compass Prototype

Over the years at Sea Breezes, we have highlighted the inherent weakness of some of our electronic navigation systems to outside interference, malevolent or otherwise.

GPS is a good example of this. A very recent case was when NATO’s huge war games (Trident Juncture exercise) off the coasts of Norway and Finland were severely disrupted by Russia jamming GPS. Over the period of the exercise, there was consistent and massive interference. According to reports in the Times and other newspapers, both Finland’s and Norway’s air traffic controllers were warned of the disruption and pilots switched to alternative navigation systems.

It is quite clear that GPS is easily fooled. Towards the end of Trident Juncture, there was an incident when a frigate and a tanker collided, but it is not known for certain if this was caused by the failure of the GPS signal.

Amazingly, about the same time in London, M Squared Lasers (a Glasgow based company) and Imperial College, London were unveiling their plans for a prototype quantum compass at a conference in London. The Quantum Compass offers a safer, less vulnerable alternative to existing systems such as GPS and will improve safety of navigation. The ability to transfer high end science to a really practical aid to safe navigation is thrilling and the promise and potential revealed by the work of M Squared Lasers and Imperial College is startling.

Most navigation today relies on global navigation satellite system (GNSS), such as GPS, which sends and receives signals from satellites orbiting the earth. The quantum accelerometer is a self-contained system that does not rely on any external signals.

This is particularly important because satellite signals can become unavailable due to blockages such as tall buildings, or can be jammed, imitated or denied – preventing accurate navigation. One day of denial of the satellite service would cost the UK £1 billion.

Now, for the first time, a UK team has demonstrated a transportable, standalone quantum accelerometer at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase, an event demonstrating the technological progress arising from the UK National Quantum Technologies programme – a £270m UK Government investment over five years.

More on this and other news in Sea Breezes Magazine - January 2019 Issue
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