2 min read

British researchers have successfully built the world’s first standalone quantum compass, which will act as a replacement for GPS as it allows highly accurate navigation without the need for satellites.

This quantum compass was built by researchers from Imperial College London and Glasgow-based laser firm M Squared. The project received funding from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) under the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme.

The device is completely self-contained and transportable and measures how an object’s velocity changes over time, by using the starting point of an object and measuring how an object’s velocity changes. Thereby, it overcomes issues of traditional GPS systems, such as blockages from tall buildings or signal jamming.

High precision and accuracy are achieved by measuring properties of super-cool atoms, which means any loss in accuracy is “immeasurably small”. Dr. Joseph Cotter, from the Centre for Cold Matter at Imperial, said: “When the atoms are ultra-cold we have to use quantum mechanics to describe how they move, and this allows us to make what we call an atom interferometer. As the atoms fall, their wave properties are affected by the acceleration of the vehicle. Using an ‘optical ruler’, the accelerometer is able to measure these minute changes very accurately.

The first real-world application for the device could be seen in the shipping industry, The size currently is suitable for large ships or aircraft. However, researchers are already working on a miniature version that could eventually fit in a smartphone. The team is also working on using the principle behind the quantum compass for research in dark energy and gravitational waves.

Dr. Graeme Malcolm, founder, and CEO of M Squared said: “This commercially viable quantum device, the accelerometer, will put the UK at the heart of the coming quantum age. The collaborative efforts to realize the potential of quantum navigation illustrate Britain’s unique strength in bringing together industry and academia – building on advancements at the frontier of science, out of the laboratory to create real-world applications for the betterment of society.”

Read the press release on the Imperial College blog.

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