Quantum ‘compass’ could allow navigation without relying on satellites

Quantum ‘compass’ could allow navigation without relying on satellites

Quantum systems can be exceptionally sensitive probes of the inertial forces associated with acceleration, experienced in everyday life as the centrifugal force on a playground roundabout or the Coriolis force in a cyclone. One important application area is inertial navigation, which relies on accurate accelerometers and gyroscopes. An accurate measurement of the acceleration due to gravity can also locate leaking pipes or new mineral resources underneath the ground. 

We are developing ultracold atom interferometers for use as accelerometers in navigation systems. Atoms make excellent sensors of acceleration, free from drift and calibration error. We closely work with government labs including the National Physical Laboratory and the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory as well as industry partners including M-Squared Lasers and Cold Quanta to bring this new technology to market. 

We also complement our quantum devices with low-noise mechanical oscillator sensors, which have achieved the highest sensitivity in the world for a micromachined inertial sensor, and can detect at the quantum level. Our seismic sensors were carried on NASA’s InSight mission and probed the interior structure of Mars. 

The most highly sensitive measurements developed for quantum technology are also an important tool to investigate fundamental science, including the search for dark matter and tests of quantum gravity and the Standard Model.

Our researchers: