Q-CTRL's quantum navigation uses atom vibration for dead reckoning

Australia-based Q-CTRL has officially announced that it will partner with the Australian military and AUKUS to develop GPS-free navigation using quantum sensors.
Christopher McFadden
Q-CTRL's quantum navigation uses atom vibration for dead reckoning.


Australian quantum technology developer Q-CTRL has now officially partnered with Australia’s Department of Defence (DoD) and, by proxy, AUKUS partners to develop quantum sensors that will deliver quantum-assured navigation capability for military platforms. The program will use Q-CTRL's "software-ruggedized" quantum sensing technology to enhance positioning and navigation.

Navigating using atoms

Q-CTRL explains that "Quantum-enhanced navigation will deliver the ability for vehicles to position accurately over long periods when GPS is unavailable or untrustworthy, opening new frontiers for defense operations. In air, space, underground, and underwater, quantum navigation permits long-endurance missions that were otherwise impossible and secure positioning against jamming or spoofing by hostile adversaries."

Since reliance on GPS has become a critical vulnerability for organizations worldwide, limited access or denial of GPS signals can cause significant impacts on commercial and military logistics. GPS alternatives have limited benefits and pose risks to defense missions due to accumulating errors. For example, most naval vessels use backup "inertial navigation" systems that can result in a ship being off course by miles in just hours without GPS, potentially causing collisions.

"Q-CTRL’s technology uses the quantum physics of atoms to detect motion and small changes in the Earth’s gravitational field, leveraging these signals to enable navigation over extended periods. Quantum sensors provide very reliable outputs because their signals are derived from the fundamental laws of physics, unlike existing mechanical or electrical systems that degrade over time or under different operating conditions," Q-CTRL explains.

“From day one we knew that our specialized expertise in quantum control could unlock totally new applications of quantum technology,” said Q-CTRL CEO and Founder Prof. Michael J. Biercuk. “We’ve shown we can boost the performance of quantum computers and quantum sensors by orders of magnitude - entirely through software. Now we’re pleased to be applying these capabilities to a critical defense mission for Australia," he added.

According to Professor Emily Hilder, interim head of the Advanced Strategic Capabilities Accelerator, the Australian DoD/AUKUS collaboration with Q-CTRL is significant for delivering quantum-enhanced navigation. “Defence recognizes that quantum sensing has the potential to transform Defence capability fundamentally. Partnerships of this kind demonstrate our capacity to translate innovative concepts into capability, delivered by a world-class Australian deep-tech company," he said.

AUKUS are interested

"Q-CTRL announced its quantum sensing division in 2022, led by Dr. Russell Anderson, and focused on realizing a new generation of software-defined quantum sensors. The team has previously worked with partners, including Advanced Navigation and the Australian Army, to demonstrate and deliver this technology for applications, including remote drone detection. Recent expansion to the US and UK directly supports delivering the team’s unique capabilities to Australia’s closest technology-sharing partners," the company explains in its press release.

"The company’s newest contract supports the first multi-year effort to field-deploy and validate miniaturized systems on defense platforms. It represents one of the first international partnerships between government and the private sector to apply quantum technology in real defense settings," they added.

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