The demand for quantum technologies is being driven by large and significant societal challenges, including the need to build in more inhospitable places, for greater security around information and transactions, for better medicines and therapies, and to counter cyber terrorism. Technologies that will allow fire crews to see through smoke and dust, computers to solve previously unsolvable computational problems, construction projects to image unmapped voids like old mine workings, and cameras that will let vehicles ‘see’ around corners are just some of the developments already taking place in the UK.
The field comprises four domains: Quantum Communication, where individual or entangled photons are used to transmit data in a provably secure way; Quantum Simulation, where well-controlled quantum systems are used to reproduce the behavior of other, less accessible quantum systems; Quantum Computation, which employs quantum effects to dramatically speed up certain calculations, such as number factoring; and Quantum Sensing & Metrology, where the high sensitivity of coherent quantum systems to external perturbations is exploited to enhance the performance of measurements of physical quantities.
According to an analysis conducted by Nature, the total value of deals in QC grew from $46m in 2012 to $173m in 2018, though 2017 was a peak year when $278m was spent on deals. Location wise, the industry has been dominated by North America, with Europe, Australia and China following behind. What is more, current projections predict a 24.9% CAGR from last year to 2024 — that’s from $93 million to $283 in cash terms.
In 2013, the UK Government announced funding of £270m (over five years) to create the National Quantum Technologies Programme. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding body for engineering and physical sciences research in the UK. In order to begin the transition from science to technology and to build clusters of activity with industry, EPSRC has invested £120 million in a national network of quantum technology hubs. These are led by the universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, York and Oxford. Each of the quantum hubs is investing in incubator spaces for new businesses, and public funding will be available to develop the facilities – such as in nano-fabrication and high-value electronic production – that companies can use to develop these new devices.
The British Government has announced that more than £80 million ($105 million) will be given to four UK-based world-leading quantum technology development centres over the next five years to create new technologies for diverse applications. Likely target areas range from Internet security to vehicle driving assistance systems as well as life-saving equipment for search-and-rescue missions, and helping firefighters. Total investment in the programme amounts to more than £1 billion since its inception. The new round of funding follows an announcement earlier in 2019 of £153 million UK Government funding, through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, to be matched by more than £200 million of investment from the private sector.
The National Quantum Technologies Programme, which began in 2013, has now entered its second phase of funding, part of which will be a £94 million investment by the UK government, via UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), in four Quantum Technologies Research Hubs which are centred at Birmingham, Glasgow, Oxford, and York.
By investing in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. EPSRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, a new body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish.
Quantum imaging technology is expected to help emergency services get a more accurate image before embarking on rescues. The technology could also see through snowstorms, around corners and map hidden underground hazards. Other applications areas include cryptography for securing internet communications, quantum clocks for time stamping financial transactions and improved satellite communications.
Besides Strathclyde, other UK research centers set to benefit from the new funding and their focuses include:
Quantum Computing and Simulation Hub, currently led by University of Oxford, which focus on computers that will easily be able to solve the most complex problems which currently challenge the most advanced supercomputers;
Quantum Sensing and Metrology Hub, currently led by Birmingham, that will revolutionise mining and excavation processes through precise mapping of densities and distances
Quantum Communications Hub, currently led by York, is developing secure communications methods which will keep financial transactions and data transmissions safe from interception
Quantum Hub for Networked Quantum Information Technologies (NQIT)
The Networked Quantum Information Technologies Hub (NQIT) is the largest of the four Hubs in the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, a £270 million investment by the UK government to establish a quantum technology industry in the UK. The NQIT Consortium is an alliance of nine universities led by Oxford University, plus more than 30 commercial and government organisations comprising leading experts across a range of backgrounds from academia, industry and government agencies, working together to achieve the ambitious goal of developing a universal quantum computer. The university partners are Bath, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, Southampton, Strathclyde, Sussex and Warwick, and we have connections with others including Heriot-Watt, Bristol, Durham and Imperial College London.
This hub is led by the University of Oxford and specializes in networked quantum information technologies, including quantum computing. It will look to develop an architecture known as ’20:20′, a modular network of 20 by 20 ion traps, connected by photonic links. These modular devices can be configured individually, so that the individual node acts as a sensor, or with multiple nodes, to form a re-configurable quantum computer system. It will also look to use early generations of the 20:20 architecture to develop devices such as a chemical nose, random number generators, and quantum cryptography range extenders.
Our aim is to develop the first truly scalable universal quantum computing machine in collaboration with government, industry and the wider community. The architectures that NQIT is developing have the highest performance of any current qubit system, and we are advancing on the path to create such a machine. We are building a new industry sector around quantum information technology, from the supply chain, through the build and operation, to programming and use of quantum computers, says Professor Ian Walmsley FRS, Director of NQIT, Hooke Professor of Experimental Physics and Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), University of Oxford.
Our key objectives are to:
- Demonstrate a scalable quantum computing architecture based on ion qubits and photonic networks
- Advance promising emerging and enabling quantum information processing technologies
- Seed and develop the commercialisation of these technologies through engagement with industry and investors through training, collaboration and knowledge transfer Engage with the wider public and community
We are developing the software systems to program and operate our quantum computing machine and are working on our own quantum computing emulator platform for high performance computers, which will enable scientists in research and industry to develop algorithms and applications for the emerging hardware.
UKRI EPSRC Quantum Communications Hub – Led by York EP/T001011/1
Commercial QKD technologies for all distance scales will require miniaturisation, for size, weight and power savings, and to enable mass manufacture. The Hub will therefore address key engineering for on-chip operation and integration. Although widely applicable, key-sharing does not provide a solution for all secure communication scenarios. The Hub will therefore research other new quantum protocols, and the incorporation of QKD into wider security solutions.
Given the changing landscape worldwide, it is becoming increasingly important for the UK to establish national capability, both in quantum communication technologies and their key components such as light sources and detectors. The Hub has assembled an excellent team to deliver this capability.
The grand vision of the Quantum Communications Hub is to pursue quantum communications at all distance scales, to offer a range of applications and services and the potential for integration with existing infrastructure. Very short distance communications require free space connections for flexibility. Examples include; between a phone or other handheld device and a terminal, or between numerous devices and a fixed receiver in a room. The Hub will be engineering these “many-to-one” technologies to enhance practicality and real-world operation. Longer distance conventional communications – at city, metropolitan and inter-city scales – already use optical fibres, and quantum communications have to leverage and complement this.
This hub is led by the University of York and will deliver a range of practical, real-world quantum-protected communications systems for a range of applications, from high-value financial transactions to everyday consumer applications. The core capability will be a range of quantum key distribution (QKD) technologies, including those operating over optical fibre and free space links systems. It will build a large-scale quantum network in the UK, connecting quantum metro networks in Cambridge and Bristol with a long-distance quantum secure link. It will also develop next-generation quantum communication technology, such as measurement-device-independent QKD and systems for quantum digital signatures.
Quantum cryptography is by far the quantum technology closest to commercial use. A prominent company that has developed commercial quantum key distribution is IdQuantique from Geneva. BT announced in March 2019 that the UK celebrates a milestone in the development of ultra-secure quantum networks with the opening of the world’s first commercial-grade quantum test network link between the BT Labs in Suffolk and the Cambridge node of the UK’s new Quantum Network. The new high-speed link will enable testing and demonstration of new quantum technologies such as Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) which are expected to play a central role in future communications systems worldwide. This will include trials of how these technologies can be used to secure critical and sensitive data across vertical industry sectors such as healthcare, banking, defence and logistics.
The link forms part of the UK Quantum Network (UKQN) built by the Quantum Communications Hub, a collaboration between research and industry, supported by the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Programme. It uses over 125km of standard BT optical fibre between Cambridge and Adastral Park, with BT Exchanges acting as ‘trusted nodes’ along the route. The link carries both quantum and non-quantum traffic; the QKD technique shares data encryption keys via an ultra-secure quantum channel over the same fibre that carries the encrypted data itself.
The Hub has already established the UK’s first quantum network, the UKQN. They will be extending and enhancing the UKQN, adding function and capability, and introducing new Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) technologies – using quantum light analogous to that used in conventional communications, or using entanglement working towards even longer distance fibre communications. The very longest distance communications – intercontinental and across oceans – require satellites. The Hub will therefore work on a new programme developing ground to satellite QKD links.
The network was built by the core partners of the Quantum Communications Hub – BT, and the universities of Cambridge and York. Support for the development was provided by ID Quantique and ADVA Optical, who supplied the QKD systems and optical transmission equipment, and the system-specific expertise required to integrate it.
UKRI EPSRC UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensing and Timing – Led by Birmingham
The Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Timing, is a collaboration between 7 universities, National Physical Laboratory (NPL), British Geological Survey (BGS) and industry. It brings disruptive new capability to real world applications with high economic and societal impact to the UK.
The unique properties of Quantum Technology sensors will enable radical innovations in Geophysics, Health Care, Timing Applications and Navigation. The Hub’s established industry partnerships bring a focus to its research that will enable sensors to be customised to the needs of each application. The total long term economic impact could amount to ~10% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
To meet its goals it will combine the expertise of scientists and engineers across a broad spectrum of capabilities. To engineer devices that can be deployed in challenging environments requires contributions from physics electronic engineering and materials science. The design of systems that possess the characteristics needed for specific applications requires understanding from civil and electronic engineering, neuroscience and a wide range of stakeholders in the supply chain. The output from a sensor is of little value without the ability to translate raw data into actionable information: data analysis and Artificial Intelligence (AI) skills are needed here. The research activities of the hub are designed to connect and develop all these skills in a coordinated fashion so the impact on the UK economy can be accelerated.
This hub is led by the University of Birmingham and focuses on sensors and metrology. Quantum sensors are expected to improve the accuracy of measuring time, frequency, rotation, magnetic fields and gravity, with particular benefits for real world applications such as military sensing, geological investigation, “flash” share trading, optical communications and computing.
It will use cold atoms to develop quantum gravity sensors, magnetic sensors, precision rotation sensors and imaging systems. Fundamentally, this hub will seek to develop a full supply chain for these new technologies, and will work closely with industry partners to develop components such as advanced optical components, cold-atom systems, and packaging and enclosures. The hub is expected to produce demonstrator gravity sensors that it will test at dedicated facilities in Birmingham.
Superpositions of quantum states are highly delicate things. The wave-like nature of quantum particles makes them extremely sensitive to the extended environment around them. In sensing and measurement, however, the very delicacy of quantum superpositions makes them ideal as the basis for precise sensors. This new generation of sensors aims to exploit the quantum nature of atoms by using lasers to trap them in minute clouds, at very low temperatures. Low temperature means a low average atomic velocity, and that means the de Broglie wavelengths of the atoms will overlap and interfere. The pattern made by this interference is very sensitive to influences from the local environment. Hence, quantum sensors may be used to measure electric, magnetic or gravitational fields, as well as other properties such as temperature, acceleration, rotation or pressure.
Quantum gravitational sensors have attracted particular interest as potential tools for subterranean surveying. Because they sense gravity very precisely, such “quantum gravimeters” could be used in civil engineering applications, or to detect groundwater reserves and deposits of minerals, oil or gas. They work underground or underwater where satellite navigation fails, and could in theory be deployed from space, rather than in local ground-based units.
Civil engineering is another significant area that will benefit from the implementation of quantum sensors. Currently, it is difficult to detect buried infrastructure, such as pipelines, and even large scale hazards such as sinkhole and mineshafts. This can prove to be a hurdle in the civil engineering sector, particularly when building upon land on which the underground conditions are unknown, or when carrying out road works when the pipe mapping is unclear. The implications of this uncertainty is not just financial; it is also life-threatening.
The Hub in Birmingham is working to transform laboratory-based research into technology. Researchers are developing smaller, cheaper, more accurate and energy efficient components and systems to build and sustain a supply chain which will have a potentially transformative impact across business and society as a whole.
Dr Michael Holynski, lead for gravity sensor research at the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, and his team work in close collaboration with industry to develop gravity sensors.
“These sensors aim to help us to better see into the underground space, for example revealing buried infrastructure or hidden hazards while also providing new tools for resilient navigation,” explains Dr Holynski. The UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing is also working with academics, such as Nicole Metje, Professor of Infrastructure Monitoring, from the National Buried Infrastructure Facility, part of the UK Collaboratorium for Research on Infrastructure and Cities (UKCRIC). The Facility aims to allow researchers to develop and test new quantum sensing technologies, which will help to further knowledge of underground infrastructure
Recent Research and development projects
Dr Till gave some specifics on recent developments by DSTL quantum-based research and development projects: “We have two development programs – a gravity imaging program, and a quantum imager. DSTL’s academic partners are the University of Birmingham, Imperial College London, and National Physical Laboratory; the commercial partners are e2v and M-Squared lasers.
”The concept of the imager is to take an array of gravity radiometers, which use cold atom physics, measure a gravity gradient across a region of space and by inverting the data can reconstruct the density profile, which has generated that gravity field,” he said.
“The Quantum Navigator involves developing the component sensors that comprise a navigation system, based on clocks, accelerometers and gyros,” Dr Till continued. “All of this should all mature to at least TRL 4 [technology readiness level] by 2019. But parts of it are already much closer to maturity now. In particular, clocks gravimeters, a gravity gradiometer and an accelerometer, all of which we hope to see at TRL4 by February 2017
Reducing the size, weight, cost and power of quantum sensors is essential in realising a quantum-enabled future. Researchers have been working hard since the Hub’s inception in 2014 to strike the perfect balance between designing compact, robust technology which still retains the necessary accuracy and sensitivity. A significant portion of this Hub research took place at the University of Southampton, where a team of researchers, including Dr Andrei Dragomir, and led by Dr Matthew Himsworth, worked to miniaturise the vacuum component in sensor systems which typically holds cold atoms. Once miniaturised, this component acts as the platform for quantum sensor technologies.
It is testament to their considerable expertise and knowledge that the researchers soon found a way to develop a cold atoms platform system without depending on magnetic fields. This meant that the device could independently operate in virtually any environment, opening up a huge range of application opportunities: monitoring treacherous ground conditions, developing non-invasive medical imaging and even detecting geological conditions from space. The device created was also small enough to fit into the palm of a hand, making it portable and within reach of everyday use.
In Sep 2020, A new spin-out company named Aquark Technologies was set up to further develop and explore opportunities arising from this miniaturised ‘plug-and-play’ device, particularly in terms of bringing it to day-to-day life, and helping to create a more safer, and more resilient world. The company’s ambitious aims have received considerable attention – Dr Dragomir recently won a place on the prestigious Seraphim Space Camp, an intensive 10-week accelerator programme dedicated to rapidly growing space technology start-ups.
ColdQuanta UK Awarded $3.5M to Commercialize New Quantum Technologies in Sep 2020
ColdQuanta, the quantum atomics company, was selected to provide cold atom quantum technology for three separate efforts underway in the UK: to lead the development of a quantum gyroscope that will be demonstrated in flight; to develop technology that will enable continuous operation of quantum sensors; and to work with partners on an updated system to improve the integration of lasers into quantum atomic systems. Totaling approximately £2.8M ($3.5M), these projects were awarded to ColdQuanta UK, a subsidiary of ColdQuanta Inc. founded in 2014 to provide cold atom components, systems, and expertise to the rapidly growing UK quantum technology sector.
“These contract awards demonstrate how ColdQuanta’s cold atom technology can be the basis of a broad range of new quantum applications,” said Dr. Tim Ballance, lead scientist at ColdQuanta UK. “Our team is excited to have been chosen for these projects, all of which will advance the commercialization of our cold atom quantum technologies.”
Dr Till explained, “Apart from civil engineering, such as identifying geological faults and features, the military could inspect buildings, understand their structures from the outside. Which is important if one wishes to review a building that is occupied by people you’d rather weren’t there. We can also detect underground tunnels and bunkers and perhaps detect fissile material – it’s frightening the amount of fissile material that disappears each year,” he continued.
He explained how future quantum based systems will significantly improve detection capabilities, especially underwater: “Currently, detection in the underwater environment, which is based on inertial navigation sensors, existing systems can be in error by as much as one nautical mile over a 24-hour period. But we expect future quantum version of this equipment to deliver about 1000-fold improvement in performance.”
“The push for all of this is to develop compact small weight and power demand systems, ultimately to be man-portable devices; we believe that at least three and possibly five orders of magnitude improvement might be possible with such accelerometers and gyros – and all of these need to be engineered into a system if we are to have a working navigator.”
“There is now another driver to quantum technology developments, which is the requirement that all government technology departments contribute to UK wealth creation. So we are very supportive of developing and maintaining a quantum community to give us a world-leading position in what we believe could be a £1 billion a year industry.
DSTL is also supporting technology transfer to industry, through four applied physics project with Innovate UK and through the recently announced £800 million / 10 year MOD Innovation initiative, which was announced in the UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence Review.
Within the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, Dr Yeshpal Singh, academic lead for quantum clocks, and Professor Chris Baker, Chair of Intelligent Sensor Systems at the University of Birmingham, are working with the National Physical Laboratory and other industry partners to develop novel applications of ultra-precise clocks in radar.
“Radar performance is fundamentally dependent upon the quality of the clock signal used,” explains Professor Baker. “For example, this is especially true when detecting tiny moving targets, such as drones, flying in a background of much larger stationary objects, such as buildings. Quantum clocks offer superior performance which, in turn, will allow all manner of small targets to be detected which otherwise are missed.”
The GPS system is, vulnerable to interference or failure. This raises the risk of disruption to telecommunications, critical power supply infrastructure and financial markets. Accordingly, one goal of the UK’s national quantum technology programme is to make highly accurate, terrestrial atomic clocks that can be used as a reliable and routine back-up against disruption of space-borne timing signals.
Atomic clocks use the oscillations of electrons within atoms as their fundamental ticking. They have been used since 1967 to determine Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), a standard timescale used world-wide. Atomic clocks on-board satellites are also a crucial part of global navigation satellite systems such as GPS. To this end, the programme aims to develop a new generation of atomic clocks that are much more accurate than existing systems. The best atomic clocks currently available hold their accuracy to within a few nanoseconds per century, but these devices are big enough to fill a room. Researchers within this hub are therefore working on atomic clocks that are smaller, more robust and portable than today’s state-of-the-art systems.
New techniques have been developed over the past decade to improve the accuracy of atomic clocks, for example involving different types of atoms, or the use of a quantum behaviour known as entanglement. The best atomic clocks lose or gain less than a hundred trillionth of a second per year. Research is focusing on improving the performance and reducing the size, weight and cost of miniature atomic clocks (which cost about £1,200 and are the size of a matchbox). The performance of the most accurate clocks is also being improved and verified.
Dr Till also gave a detailed worked example of quantum technology being developed into systems: “portable atomic clocks will be a real game-changer for the military,” he said. “In this area, there is early adoption by the MOD, which will later see wider civilian use. Development is currently at TRL 4-5, with the aim of achieving TRL 8-9 maturity within five years.
“We could use these portable atomic clocks in synchronisation and battle space management applications in such critical areas as: information activities, artillery, manoeuvres, communications, navigation and sensor subsystems. Portable atomic clocks would allow us to relax our reliance on GPS.” He concluded, “We believe we are standing on the brink of the next mobile device revolution.“
Quantum Imaging Hub Led by Glasgow EP/T00097X/1
This hub is led by the University of Glasgow and specializes in quantum-enhanced imaging. It will use quantum correlations, entanglement and timing to create images using novel methods. This will include imaging using very low light levels to allow imaging of objects “hidden” out of line of sight, improved resolution imaging using quantum correlations, imaging using only a small number of photons and “stealth” imaging. Quantum effects will also be used to extract images from noisy signals.
The hub will look to develop the supply chain for these devices, and will work on the development of underpinning technologies such as single photon sources and detector arrays, microelectro-mechanical systems (MEMS) and nano-electromechanical systems (NEMS) technologies.
Quantum Hub in Quantum Enhanced Imaging (QuantIC) will continue to develop revolutionary imaging systems that shift the way imaging occurs, such as the ability to see directly inside the human body, the ability to see through fog and smoke, to make microscopes with higher resolution and lower noise than classical physics allows, and quantum radars that cannot be jammed or confused by other radars around them. These developments will be enabled by new technologies, such as single-photon cameras, detectors based on new materials and single-photon sensitivity in the mid-infrared spectral regions. Combined with new computational methods, QuantIC will enable UK industry to lead the global imaging revolution.
Cameras that can take pictures around corners might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but they are a key area of development for the UK’s quantum imaging hub. These specialized cameras send out laser pulses that illuminate a point on the ground in front of them. The resulting scattered light then hits an object lurking unseen around the corner, bounces off it, and re-enters the camera’s field of view, where it is detected. The ability to build up detailed images via this indirect method is down to the cameras’ exquisite sensitivity, which enables them to detect single photons efficiently with short exposure times, and thus to “see” around corners.
Another focus for the quantum imaging hub is known as “ghost imaging”. While not involving spectres as such, the technology is certainly spectral in the physics sense of the word. Conventional cameras capture the same wavelength of light used to illuminate the imaged object. Not so with a quantum “ghost” camera. Instead, the object is illuminated with one wavelength of light, but imaged with a different one. To do this, experimenters must generate beams of entangled photons: one beam to illuminate the object while the other beam separately illuminates the camera, forming an image of the object. Entanglement allows the first beam to influence the image formed by the second.
UKRI EPSRC Hub in Quantum Computing and Simulation – Led by Oxford EP/T001062/1
The EPSRC Quantum Computing and Simulation Hub will enable the UK to be internationally leading in Quantum Computing and Simulation. It will drive progress toward practical quantum computers and usher in the era where they will have revolutionary impact on real-world challenges in a range of multidisciplinary themes including; discovery of novel drugs and new materials, through to quantum-enhanced machine learning, information security and even carbon reduction through optimised resource usage.
The Hub will bring together leading quantum research teams across 17 universities, into a collaboration with more than 25 national and international commercial, governmental and academic entities. It will address critical research challenges, and work with partners to accelerate the development of quantum computing in the UK.
Hub research will focus on the hardware and software that will be needed for future quantum computers and simulators. In hardware, the Hub will advance a range of different platforms, encompassing simulation, near term quantum computers, and longer term fully scalable machines. In software the Hub will develop fundamental techniques, algorithms, new applications and means to verify the correct operation of any future machine.
Hardware and software research will be closely integrated in order to provide a full-stack capability for future machines, enabled by the broad expertise of its partners. They will also study the architecture of these machines, and develop emulation techniques to accelerate their development.