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MoD to chill atoms for quantum navigation and timekeeping

Ultra-cold atoms now in the lab could replace GPS
Fri May 16 2014, 14:58

THE UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) is looking at possibly disruptive quantum technology that might radically improve navigation systems and revolutionise many areas of everyday life.

The Ministry of Defence's DSTL has hosted 13 projects at the National Physical Laboratory in Teddington, and demonstrated how atomic clocks and ultra-cold atoms can be used in timing, navigation and sensing (TNS) systems.

So far such systems are confined to the laboratory and the military field, but the DSTL talked of the "game-changing" possibilities of TNS.

Neil Stansfield, head of knowledge, innovation and futures enterprise at DSTL said, "The defence industry often acts as a pioneer in the development of new technologies, and 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 technologies could bring game-changing advantages to the UK defence sector and support markets measured in billions, here in the UK and around the world."

The National Physical Lab (NPL) agreed, saying that the projects could have an impact on an range of systems.

"Whilst the most immediate applications are in the defence field, future Q-Nav [quantum navigation] technologies could have significant civilian applications across a wide variety of activities, covering high-frequency trading, network synchronisation, robust and ubiquitous navigation, geo-surveying and mineral prospecting," said Bob Cockshott, positioning, navigation and timing expert at the NPL.

"Our hope is that today's showcase will inspire electronics designers and manufacturers across the country to take advantage of the opportunities on offer and establish leading positions for themselves within important future supply chains for the coming decades.

"As with the technology itself, the timing of today's event is significant. With the first applications potentially ready for market in five years, now is the critical moment to consider the opportunities provided by quantum."

Quantum technology is see as a breakthrough technology in many areas of computing, such as security, with the government stumping up £270m to its research late last year. µ


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