When it comes to locating objects in the world, GPS has always been an essential part of every smart device. People use portable GPS locators to navigate roads in the car, and GPS can even be found on drones. GPS implementation has become so popular that we can hardly imagine life without it. However, objects like tall buildings can block the satellite signals used by GPS, so scientists came up with a quantum-based accelerometer to locate objects.
Scientists developed this alternative form of navigation for use in large vehicles or even for scientific pursuits, such as searching for dark matter in hidden corners of interstellar space. Researchers from Imperial College London made a quantum “compass” which can locate objects without relying on satellites.
The call the device a “standalone quantum accelerometer” which is small enough to transport. They showed it off at the National Quantum Technologies Showcase. Accelerometers are used to measure changes in the velocity of an object over time, or acceleration. It’s a common piece of technology often found on smartphones.
Accelerometers give information about the original position of an object and its velocity. However, the accuracy of basic accelerometers worsens over time if there is no external reference to recalibrate the device. As a result, it is not useful for tasks in which exact location is required, such as navigation.
The quantum-based accelerometer is much more accurate. It calculates accuracy by measuring the movements of supercool atoms, which are cooled down to where they show quantum behavior, like by acting as both particles and electromagnetic waves. To measure the movements of atoms, scientists created an atom interferometer, a tool that can measure the displacement of waves. Thus, the quantum-based accelerometer could be used to measure movements through space more accurately than ever before.
Professor Ed Hinds from the Centre for Cold Matter at Imperial said in a statement, “I think it’s tremendously exciting that this quantum technology is now moving out of the basic science lab and being applied to problems in the wider world, all from the fantastic sensitivity and reliability that you can only get from these quantum systems.”
The device will be used on larger devices such as ships and trains, but it’s still too big to fit into compact devices. Since the device boasts lasers used to track supercold atoms, it’s simply too large.
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