Preparing for Take-off: IDTechEx Discusses Unjammable Sat-Navs and the Quantum Sensor Revolution

IDTechEx • 15 May 2024 - 13:34


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Computer/ Electronics Publishing/Information Services STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Math) Aerospace/Defense Automotive Transportation/Trucking/Railroad Consumer Electronics

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CAMBRIDGE, England, May 15, 2024 /PRNewswire/ -- The modern world depends heavily on GPS satellites to navigate, but too often, access to them is lost or even jammed. This creates a significant risk to safety in multiple industries — especially aerospace, but also automotive and consumer electronics. Following the world's first successful flight demonstration of quantum navigation technology in May 2024 by BAE, QinetiQ, and Infleqtion, this article outlines the power of quantum sensors.

IDTechEx shows how quantum sensors and atomic clocks can add value for precision navigation and timing applications. Source: IDTechEx

The quest for more reliable precision navigation and timing technology solutions is now driving significant interest in quantum sensors and atomic clock technology.  This is just one of the many applications of this revolutionary technology covered in IDTechEx's Quantum Sensor Market report, in what is predicted to become a multi-billion-dollar industry within the decade.

Quantum sensors offer more precision compared to incumbents

Quantum sensors use quantum phenomena to enable highly sensitive measurements of many physical properties. They can measure time (atomic clocks), magnetic field and current, gravity, angular motion, single photons, and more. Emerging quantum technologies within the quantum sensors market are also benefitting from the growing hype around quantum computing and quantum communication technologies (particularly given their applications for cybersecurity).

To date, the most common method to accurately determine one's position and the local time is via data from a global navigation satellite system (GNSS), for example, the US military's global positioning system (GPS). However, there are environments where access to GNSS data is restricted. This can be a result of highly mountainous terrain blocking signals or spoofing by a third party. Precision navigation systems are under increasing pressure to remain reliable in GNSS denied environments.

Continuing to navigate when triangulation capabilities are lost depends on accurate measurements of distance traveled, direction, speed, and time. Existing motion sensors, gyroscopes, and local oscillators (clocks) don't have sufficient accuracy for precision navigation. The promise of quantum sensors and atomic clocks is that they are fundamentally much more accurate than traditional approaches, so much so that they can provide local access to precise inertial navigation systems without depending on GNSS.

Atomic clocks and cold atoms

For example, all clocks measure time using some form of resonator or oscillator. For hundreds of years, clock technology has improved in accuracy, progressing from measuring how many hours have passed to minutes, seconds, milliseconds, and so on. This increase in sensitivity has depended on access to higher frequency oscillators; we have progressed from using cycles of sun-rises through pendulums and quartz and now to atomic transitions. There is now a range of atomic clocks that use high-frequency oscillations between atomic energy levels commercially available, as well as others under development aiming to offer even higher accuracy measurements of time- from players such as Microsemi, Teledyne, Infleqtion, and more. Similarly, quantum gyroscopes can use the sensitivity of quantum properties, such as spin, to determine rotation with a high degree of accuracy. Others are even investigating the potential of quantum gravimeters and quantum magnetic fields sensors for mapping and navigation applications.

There are multiple hardware approaches to manufacturing quantum technology for a variety of sensing applications. In IDTechEx's quantum sensors market report, there is coverage of photonics, superconducting, alkali vapors, diamond, and more. The method championed by Infleqtion in the recent flight demonstration with BAE is 'ultra-cold atoms'.  Lasers can be used to trap atoms which makes their energy levels so low it has a cooling effect. In this state, the quantum properties of the atoms can be manipulated to make precise measurements. With specialized magneto-optical traps, ultra-high vacuum cells, ion pumps, rubidium atom sources and optics – Infleqtion have been able to decouple measurement of position from the environment completely and contribute to omitting the dependence on GPS to navigate within a plane.

Market outlook

To date, many quantum sensing technologies have remained too large or expensive to be adopted for mass-market navigational needs. For example, some cold-atom technology still requires a 'rack-mountable' form factor (still impressive for quantum but less competitive with classical technology). However, as well as showing progression towards readiness for the aerospace sector, quantum technology may also be on track to be miniaturized even further. Many applications, including precision navigation, are targeting chip-scale fabrication in the long term. This could coincide with the adoption of autonomous cars in the next 10 years, which would represent a key high-volume use case for such a product. Here, navigational precision of a few cm is essential – but size, weight, power, and cost are also a high priority. Moreover, within dense urban environments, many smartphone and wearables users commonly struggle to navigate using apps, e.g., Google Maps, due to loss of GPS signal – and many users may well value a higher precision solution in the future.

Overall, while quantum sensors can seem somewhat niche today, their mass-market potential should not be overlooked. As early adopters in aerospace begin to demonstrate the value of quantum technology, other markets—particularly automotive — are likely to follow in the future. As quantum sensing innovations continue, perhaps in the future, we may all find ourselves with 'un-jammable Sat-Navs' in our cars and pockets, too.

While this article has highlighted precision navigation as an example of the quantum sensing revolution – quantum sensing technology more broadly has applications in remote current sensing for electric vehicles, medical diagnostics, underground mapping and much more. For more information on the commercial outlook for quantum sensor technology mentioned in this article, including twenty-year market forecasts, see IDTechEx's latest, "Quantum Sensors Market 2024-2044".

Find coverage of related topics in IDTechEx reports on quantum computers, wearable technology and autonomous vehicles. Sample pages are available for all IDTechEx reports. Visit www.IDTechEx.com/Research/Quantum for more on quantum related technologies.

About IDTechEx 

 

IDTechEx provides trusted independent research on emerging technologies and their markets. Since 1999, we have been helping our clients to understand new technologies, their supply chains, market requirements, opportunities and forecasts. For more information, contact [email protected] or visit www.IDTechEx.com

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