Researchers in Britain have built the world’s first quantum “compass”, a navigation device that helps locate the location of an object without being based on GPS. Thanks to its quantum mode of operation and to the fact that it does not need a satellite signal, it is impossible to receive interference and be hacked by hackers.
The mobile device, a physics and engineering creator at Imperial College London, was funded by the British Defense Ministry for its potential military applications, including the British nuclear submarines that want to remain silent for a long time on the seabed.
“It is fully self-sufficient and particularly useful if one wants to navigate a large ship or stand-alone vehicles for long periods of time without having to send or receive any signals to know where he is,” said researcher Joseph Coteur.
The global GPS navigation system depends on satellites, which makes it vulnerable to interference or interruption of the signal, especially in case of deliberate cyber-attack by enemy forces or malicious hackers. It has been noticed that even modern pirates are tricking merchant ships by trapping them by interfering with GPS ships.
The GPS signal may also be lost due to natural causes (eg space disturbances) or environmental (eg interference of very high buildings). As Cather said, “It’s impossible to have a GPS signal anywhere in the world.”
The new system – a quantum accelerometer – measures how quickly an object’s speed changes over time. Tiny-quantum accelerometers are already in devices like “smart” mobile phones and laptops, but – without external help – can be used for accurate navigation for only a few hours.
The new quantum “compass” measures the subtle movement of people at an extremely low temperature, close to absolute zero. In this superhuman state of matter, atoms, who behave quantum both as matter and as waves, are controlled, of a special powerful laser manufactured by the British company MSquared. This laser also acts as the “visual ruler” in which people’s movements are measured – which then allows orientation.
At present, the quantum compass is large enough and can only be placed on ships, planes or large vehicles, but researchers are working to reduce it so it can even be integrated into a smartphone.