Q-DOS : QKD for Drones with Optimal Size weight and power

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Lightweight Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have seen a huge increase in commercial uptake in recent years, but their applications have been limited, in part by the inability to securely communicate highly sensitive data back to the ground. Project Q-DOS (QKD for Drones with Optimal Size weight and power) will solve this problem by delivering a unique quantum encrypted communication system with an eavesdropping detection feature between an airborne platform and a ground-based station. This hyper-secure system is based on Quantum Key Distribution (QKD), which provides future proof communications security combined with the novel ability to detect eavesdroppers. A key challenge is meeting the demanding Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) requirements as the system will have to be deployed on a lightweight (under 7kg) drone. This will be achieved by using the novel integrated quantum optical QKD chips combined with flight-proven optical communications system developed by project members. We expect the outcome of this project not only to be a step change in capability in the secured drone market (both military and commercial), but to open up a significant number of areas, moving QKD away from niche applications and towards mainstream adoption.

The Centre for Quantum Photonics at the University of Bristol is one of the world leaders in the development of integrated quantum photonics technology. It has a wealth of practical knowledge (also in free-space QKD experiments) which it hopes to contribute to the project. In particular, UoB will collaborate in the development of detector technologies and provide detector characterisation facilities, provide a combination fast and slow driving electronics, all combined with significant person-power of expertise of QKD systems and field experiments.

Planned Impact

The impact will arise through wide uptake of this technology and the disruptive nature of its capability.

The impact plan is focused on ensuring that Airbus, Bristol, KETS and other partners can take the results and exploit them. Their aim is to supply a technology solution for securing data links between airborne platforms and ground base stations. The strategy to achieve this impact includes:

- Intellectual property (IP) protection: Project meetings will have a standing discussion item on IP generated by all partners and any publication will take due account of the need to protect IP.

- Engagement with relevant aerospace standards and industry bodies: Airbus Defence and Space is well represented on such bodies, who form a highly targeted and appropriate audience. We will aim to present this work at a relevant forum, to be determined, with the aim of informing the industry of the potential of the technique.

- Publication in aerospace trade publications: Flight international, the Royal Aeronautical Society Journal and other relevant publications will be used to disseminate results and future 'roadmaps' for this work.

- Presentation at relevant aerospace conferences: A presentations will be made at conferences
relevant to this field.

- Demonstration: Members of the consortium, Airbus Group Innovation and end user organisations will be invited to a demonstration of the capabilities of the system. A video demonstration will also be made available.

Wider impact: The miniaturization of the QKD system is widely applicable to several scenarios and applications ranging from short-range links to UAVs and potentially secure links to satellites. Airbus is a major satellite manufacturer and has excellent knowledge of the routes to exploitation in this market. The low size, weight and power (SWaP) QKD system scoped in this project has the potential capability to be a disruptive technology for the small form satellites ie. CubeSats, market. This type of satellites are envisaged to dominate Earth observation and remote sensing applications and the system that will be developed offers a high level of security to this application.

The novel compact tracking retro-reflecting modulators targeted by the Q-DOS project are also applicable to classical laser-based wireless system, to increase both link range and data rates. Additionally, the low SWaP feature of this module makes this block attractive to be used on small handheld devices designed for short range indoor applications. The strategy to ensure impact in this area is based on engaging with a wider audience in the area of optical engineering, where most of the relevant scientists report their results. Engagement will include

- Journal and conference presentations. These will be used to publicise results in a wider context, to help to ensure take-up in the areas listed above. We will target conferences with a large industrial and academic audience, possibly SPIE security and defence, where there are a wide range of different topics and a single presentation can reach a wide audience.

- Online news. We will write a short article for online news services, such as that run by the SPIE, in order to disseminate to an audience as wide as possible in the area of optical engineering.

- Video demonstrations and web based information. We will create short video clips of successful field trials as well as summaries on the work on the Oxford and Bristol group website, to allow wider publicity and to generate interest.


10 25 50
Description We developed a high speed gating technology for photon counting using InGaAs avalanche diodes. The sine wave at 1.72GHz turns the detector on once every 580ps and during this time it is can break down on detecting a single photon. This voltage spike is difficult to distinguish from the sine wave response of the diode and we apply a cancellation technique to remove the 1.72 GHz fundamental after the diode. This allows the detection of low level breakdown pulses. We developed a combination of cancellation and filtering which allowed us to detect breakdown pulses. However the stabilisation of the method is still under research. Development of a robust realisation of the technology suitable for commercialisation has been handed over to KETS our project partners
Exploitation Route Development of a robust realisation of the technology suitable for commercialisation has been handed over to KETS our project partners
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Security and Diplomacy

Description Our colleagues in KETS Quantum have refined our preliminary results to make a working sine wave gated detector technology for use in their commercial quantum key distribution system.
First Year Of Impact 2020
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Economic

Description AIRQKD
Amount £5,791,335 (GBP)
Funding ID 45364 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2020 
End 06/2023
Description IUK/UK Canada Grant (BaSQuaNa)
Amount £350,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 80304 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2021 
End 03/2023
Description ROKS payload flight model - implementation phase (Craft Prospect Limited)
Amount £500,000 (GBP)
Organisation UK Space Agency 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2021 
End 03/2022
Description The EPSRC Quantum Communications Hub
Amount £23,961,861 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/T001011/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2019 
End 11/2024
Description UK-Canada Space-based QKD: Modular WCP Sources & RFI Protocols
Amount £350,000 (GBP)
Funding ID 78161 
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2021 
End 12/2023
Description Cognizant 
Organisation Cognizant Technology Solutions
Country United States 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We provide the hand held QKD system and our Oxford collaborators have developed a pointing and tracking system
Collaborator Contribution Cognizant provide a window on commercial security in networks and in financial transactions. They look to commercialisation of the eventual working technology
Impact Demonstration of a working QKD system to cognizant top level management planned for end of this project.
Start Year 2018
Description Oxford University 
Organisation University of Oxford
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration with Prof Dominic O'Briens team in Engineering on pointing a tracking technologies
Collaborator Contribution Developing handheld QKD system and pointing and tracking for space QKD. Developing detector technology for integrated quantum communications.
Impact So far we have demonstrated prototypes at 2 quantum technology showcases 2017/2018
Start Year 2017
Description Strathclyde University 
Organisation University of Strathclyde
Department Faculty of Science
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have developed pointing and tracking capabilities for CUBESAT quantum communication sysyems and the communications hardware
Collaborator Contribution Dr Daniel Oi has designed our satellite QKD system and made detailed modelling of a ground to satellite QKD system in operation
Impact Further funding raised through partnership resource on Quantum communications technology hub Satellite launches are planned
Start Year 2017
Description York Quantum communications Quantum Technology Hub 
Organisation University of York
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Integrated quantum photonics for quantum communication. Hand held QKD for financial transactions. Demonstration of quantum networks in Bristol Entanglement networks Various contributions to annual quantum technology hubs
Collaborator Contribution Co-ordination of research and various quantum communications schemes and Cambridge and UK quantum networks.
Impact KETS quantum security spin-out Various publications in the list
Start Year 2014
Description BQIT (Bristol Quantum Information Technologies) Workshop 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact This is the annual quantum information workshop organised by Bristol, chared again this year by Prof John Rarity
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.flickr.com/photos/cqpbristol/sets/72157694318687751
Description Launch of the Cambridge to Adastral Park Quantum Network Link/UKQNtel netowrk at the Hauser Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Launch of the UKQNtel Quantum Network: Connecting Research with Industry.
The UK Quantum Communications Hub and lead industrial partner BT are launching UKQNtel - the UK's first testbed for QKD (Quantum Key Distribution) research and innnovation. This is a landmark step in accelerating commercialisation of the UK's research excellence in quantum-secure communications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Quantum Graphic Novel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We wrote a graphic novel chapter detailing in an entertaining way the development of secure communications from ancient times until today where we research quantum secured communications
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018,2019
URL https://www.bristol.ac.uk/physics/research/quantum/engagement/light-keys/
Description Quantum Technology showcase November 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Showcase of quantum technologies.
We have exhibited:
Hand held quantum key distributions
Chip-scalequantum key distribution
Quantum light sources for sub-shot noise measurement
Quantum pair photn sources for rangefinging
Remote gas sensing using single photon detection
Quantum network technologies
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015,2016,2017,2018,2019
URL http://uknqt.epsrc.ac.uk/news-and-events/events/