Developing quantum sensors for autonomous vehicles

The University of Queensland

Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

Developing quantum sensors for autonomous vehicles

Researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ) are working with the Australian Defence Force (ADF), NASA, Orica and Brisbane’s Skyborne Technologies to develop next-generation quantum sensors which could revolutionise navigation and communications in unmanned and autonomous vehicles.

The research is part of the newly created Australia-wide Quantum Technologies Research Network, set up under the Next Generation Technologies Fund — a $6.6 million initiative to develop quantum technologies for use in defence applications. UQ has been awarded two projects focused on developing quantum accelerometers, gyroscopes, sonar and magnetometers, with total funding of $1.7 million.

“This is an exciting new direction, applying quantum physics to major challenges in modern technology,” said UQ scientist Professor Warwick Bowen, who claims the research could position Australia as a world leader in ultraprecise sensors for unmanned and autonomous vehicles.

“Quantum sensors allow greatly improved performance and could transform navigation and positioning capabilities for unmanned vehicles,” he continued.

“These sensors will be so precise that the laws of quantum physics are required to understand how they function.

“And they’ll be built from both nanoengineered mechanical devices fabricated on a silicon chip and atomic gases cooled until they behave as matter waves.”

UQ’s Professor Halina Rubinsztein-Dunlop was similarly enthusiastic, stating, “The Quantum Technologies Research Network will position Australia at the forefront of this important area of technology.

“Taking sophisticated new sensors out of the lab and into practical applications is challenging, but working with the ADF, NASA and other industry partners will make this possible,” she said.

“By partnering with industry, academia and government research agencies, we can push the potential of quantum technologies, create prototype systems and demonstrate the practical application of quantum systems to complicated and demanding defence problems.”

Prof Bowen and Prof Rubinsztein-Dunlop work with UQ’s Precision Sensing Initiative and the Australian Centre for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS). The funded projects will also draw on the expertise of UQ quantum physics researchers Dr Mark Baker and Dr Michael Bromley.

“UQ is the perfect place for research in quantum technology, and we’re excited about the world-changing technology that this collaboration will create,” Prof Rubinsztein-Dunlop said.

Image caption: Mechanical sensors on a silicon chip. Image credit: Dr Christopher Baker.

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