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UK unveils quantum accelerometer: The quantum accelerometer, the result of a five-year research programme, is based on super-cooled atoms, and has been designed for navigation on ships or trains.

A team of researchers from Imperial College London and photonics firm M Squared have demonstrated the UK's first commercially viable, transportable and standalone quantum accelerometer.

The system has initially been designed for the navigation of large vehicles, such as ships or trains.

The demonstration was given at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase, an event highlighting the progress made during the 270 million [pounds sterling] UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, which has now reached the end of its five-year initial funding period.

In contrast to a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) such as GPS, which 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 important, as satellite signals can be jammed or blocked by tall buildings.

'We need new types of navigation, because at the moment the world relies very heavily on the global network of satellites to tell everybody where they are,' said Professor Ed Hinds, of the Centre for Cold Matter at Imperial College London. 'It's been estimated that the UK alone stands to lose about 1 billion [pounds sterling] a day if the satellite navigation system was denied.'

Accelerometers--technology found in most mobile phones and tablets--are able to measure how an object's velocity changes over time. Combining this with the starting position of the object enables its location to be calculated. An issue with standard accelerometers, however, is that they are not able to maintain their accuracy over long periods of time without an external reference.

The new quantum accelerometer overcomes this by relying on the precision and accuracy that comes with measuring the properties of super-cooled atoms, which when at very low temperatures behave in a quantum way, acting as both matter and waves.

'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,' explained Dr Joseph Cotter, also of the Centre for Cold Matter at Imperial College London.

As super-cooled atoms fall, their wave properties are affected by acceleration --for example from a moving vehicle. These minute changes are then measured very accurately by the quantum accelerometer using an 'optical ruler'.

'This commercially viable quantum device--the accelerometer--will put the UK at the heart of the coming quantum age,' commented Dr Graeme Malcolm, founder and CEO of M Squared. 'The collaborative efforts to realise 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.'

In order to make the atoms cold enough for them to exhibit quantum behaviour, and in order to probe their properties as they respond to acceleration, the system requires a very powerful laser that can be controlled precisely.

'As part of our work in commercialising cold atom quantum sensors, we developed a universal laser system for cold atom-based sensors that we have already implemented in our quantum gravimeter,' said Dr Joseph Thom, quantum technology scientist at M Squared. 'This laser is now also used in the quantum accelerometer we have built in collaboration with Imperial [College London]. Combining high power, exceptionally low noise and frequency tuneability, the laser system cools the atoms and provides the optical ruler for the acceleration measurements.'

First projects selected for EU Quantum Flagship funding

The first 20 projects have been selected for the European Commission's 1 billion [euro], 10-year Quantum Flagship programme. The initiative was launched in Vienna, Austria, on 29 October.

The Quantum Flagship programme will cover communication, computing, simulation, metrology and sensing, and basic science.

The first 20 projects will be funded for the initial three-year phase of the Quantum Flagship, running until September 2021, with an overall budget of 132 million [euro].

Among the work funded is the 2.6 million [euro], Sub-Poissonian Photon Gun by Coherent Diffusive Photonics (PhoG) project, led by the University of St Andrews. It aims to deliver a compact, versatile, deterministic source of quantum light--PhoG --based on integrated waveguide networks. The light source will be used to develop applications in metrology and other quantum technology tasks.

Other projects include: Qombs, which will aim to create a quantum simulator platform, made of ultra-cold atoms, for engineering a new generation of quantum cascade laser frequency combs; and S2QUIP, to develop scalable quantum photonic hybrid microsystems by integrating 2D semiconductor materials in CMOS compatible photonic circuits. S2QUIP will provide the community with on-chip quantum light sources for quantum simulation, communication, metrology and sensing.

Caption: The quantum accelerometer uses a laser to cool atoms
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Publication:Electro Optics
Date:Dec 1, 2018
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