The rise of quantum technologies will bring a huge impact on our lives

Written by: Roger McKinlay | Published:
Roger McKinlay, Quantum Challenge director

The rise of quantum technologies will bring a huge impact on all our lives. In the future we will have navigation systems that can operate when GPS satellites are hidden from view and cameras that are so sensitive they can see light scattered by objects round a corner. Plus, security: we’ll have new techniques to secure information in a world of ever evolving threats.

The future impact of these technologies has been recognised by the government. The Chancellor in the Autumn Budget announced a further £235 million of support to develop the next generation of transformative Quantum technologies. This includes a new National Quantum Computing Centre; a Quantum Challenge in the next wave of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and a new training and skills package.

In order to secure the UK lead in this area and make sure that companies based in the UK and UK jobs take a significant share of this opportunity, we must continue to work across industry, academia and government to achieve innovation.

This is why the government’s investment of £20 million announced earlier this year through the Industrial Strategy in a Pioneer Challenge is to put prototype quantum-enabled devices in to the hands of users.

In launching this funding opportunity with businesses and academia this summer, we focused on four key opportunities for quantum technologies.

Seeing the Invisible

Quantum technologies will allow us to see and sense things that are currently invisible to us.This might be seeing an object through smoke, fog, clouds of dust or murky water.It might be the ability to see round corners using cameras so sensitive they can detect light scattered from objects out of view.Or it might be the ability to visualise a leaking cloud of gas or electrical activity in the brain.

Single-pixel cameras will make complex imaging affordable and not just in two dimensions.Time-of-flight information will give 3D images and range information.

At a meeting in Glasgow on Seeing the Invisible, we agreed that prototypes and demonstrators are the next step in developing these new capabilities across a range of applications.Early engagement with users is essential to tailor the devices to the needs of customers and markets.This is will unlock private sector investment – a goal of the Pioneer Challenge.

Situational Awareness

Being able to see your surroundings gives more than an image – it brings situational awareness.Knowledge of objects and their locations is absolutely critical for pilots of aircraft and drivers of vehicles.In the future, computers will need the same high-quality information to make autonomy a reality.

3D images and range information about landmarks also gives information about position and so this new generation of cameras will also be navigation sensors.

It’s not just about light.New quantum inertial sensors will be able to detect rotation and movement.Gravity sensors will be able to see gravitational forces.The maps of tomorrow will contain features that are hidden today.

Surprisingly, current satellite navigation systems such as GPS also provide precise time. (GPS satellites contain atomic clocks.)New quantum clocks will provide more compact, robust and portable devices for use where satellite signals are not available.Much of our infrastructure- communications, banking, broadcasting and utilities - is dependent on atomic time.

Infrastructure Productivity

Improving infrastructure productivity is a key challenge for the UK. We held a meeting in Birmingham to explore how quantum technologies can assist with tackling this challenge. The lack of knowledge about the location of buried infrastructure and the state of ground conditions can cause significant and costly delays for maintenance work and civil engineering projects.

Here is another example of the advantages of seeing more.Gravity sensing using quantum technologies will allow the underground world to be mapped more quickly, with a higher precision and to a greater depth than is currently possible. Think of “street view” – but under the street.

There are many players in the complex value-chain from laboratory to building site.The Birmingham meeting identified the involvement of end-users – through the Pioneer Challenge – as an essential step.

Trusted Peer-to-Peer Comms

From banking to the internet, secure communications – in which we place our trust – underpin much of our daily lives. However, the security of current encryption protocols cannot be guaranteed as new and more advanced technologies come on stream in the future.The threat of the interception, loss or theft of vital information is a very real threat and the consequences of any breach in security considerable. We held a meeting in Bristol to discuss how quantum technologies can meet these challenges.

UK companies are at the forefront of many activities.The use of quantum technology in the distribution of encryption keys –Quantum Key Distribution – will transform the way the keys that protect our personal data are distributed and managed.The use of quantum technologies in the development of security techniques and algorithms will ensure security in a “post-quantum” world where quantum computing could render much of today’s security ineffective.

The Pioneer Challenge

We received a strong response to the Pioneer Challenge and were able to fund four projects who will now develop quantum-enabled prototypes in the next two years. For details of the four projects funded please see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/quantum-leap-pr...

To keep up-to-date with the Quantum Challenge and to sign up for news please see https://www.ukri.org/innovation/industrial-strateg...


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