UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensing and Timing

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


The Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Timing, a collaboration between 7 universities, NPL, BGS and industry, will bring disruptive new capability to real world applications with high economic and societal impact to the UK. The unique properties of QT sensors will enable radical innovations in Geophysics, Health Care, Timing Applications and Navigation. Our established industry partnerships bring a focus to our research work that enable sensors to be customised to the needs of each application. The total long term economic impact could amount to ~10% of GDP.

Gravity sensors can see beneath the surface of the ground to identify buried structures that result in enormous cost to construction projects ranging from rail infrastructure, or sink holes, to brownfield site developments. Similarly they can identify oil resources and magma flows. To be of practical value, gravity sensors must be able to make rapid measurements in challenging environments. Operation from airborne platforms, such as drones, will greatly reduce the cost of deployment and bring inaccessible locations within reach.

Mapping brain activity in patients with dementia or schizophrenia, particularly when they are able to move around and perform tasks which stimulate brain function, will help early diagnosis and speed the development of new treatments. Existing brain imaging systems are large and unwieldy; it is particularly difficult to use them with children where a better understanding of epilepsy or brain injury would be of enormous benefit. The systems we will develop will be used initially for patients moving freely in shielded rooms but will eventually be capable of operation in less specialised environments. A new generation of QT based magnetometers, manufactured in the UK, will enable these advances.

Precision timing is essential to many systems that we take for granted, including communications and radar. Ultra-precise oscillators, in a field deployable package, will enable radar systems to identify small slow-moving targets such as drones which are currently difficult to detect, bringing greater safety to airports and other sensitive locations.

Our world is highly dependent on precise navigation. Although originally developed for defence, our civil infrastructure is critically reliant on GNSS. The ability to fix one's location underground, underwater, inside buildings or when satellite signals are deliberately disrupted can be greatly enhanced using QT sensing. Making Inertial Navigation Systems more robust and using novel techniques such as gravity map matching will alleviate many of these problems.

In order to achieve all this, we will drive advanced physics research aimed at small, low power operation and translate it into engineered packages to bring systems of unparalleled capability within the reach of practical applications. Applied research will bring out their ability to deliver huge societal and economic benefit. By continuing to work with a cohort of industry partners, we will help establish a complete ecosystem for QT exploitation, with global reach but firmly rooted in the UK.

These goals can only be met by combining the expertise of scientists and engineers across a broad spectrum of capability. The ability 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 necessary characteristics for specific applications requires understanding from civil and electronic engineering, neuroscience and a wide range of stakeholders in the supply chain. The outputs from a sensor is of little value without the ability to translate raw data into actionable information: data analysis and AI skills are needed here. The research activities of the hub are designed to connect and develop these skills in a coordinated fashion such that the impact on our economy is accelerated.

Planned Impact

The Hub for Sensors and Timing will build on an exceptional track record of delivering significant impact based on world-class research. Our initiatives for impact include:
1) Supply of a trained, skilled workforce. We will train over 500 PDRAs, PhDs and undergraduate students in QT Innovation; our sector-leading first year PhD training course will be developed into a self-contained taught Masters' course accessible to industry-based participants
2) Industry-led collaborative projects; in Phase 1 we delivered £75M of leverage, expected to rise to £100M in Phase 2
3) Educate over 200 companies in the potential of QT, influencing investment behaviour through technoeconomic data such as Value Chain Analysis
4) A pipeline of technology exploitation opportunities for the UK through IP capture. The first Hub captured 145 ROIs and 15 patents, we expect this to increase in Phase 2
5) Reach and educate over 100 000 people via our public engagement activities, social media campaigns, and website

Long term, Quantum sensors with improved performance to current technologies will provide significant savings and generate new high-value markets. We will develop technologies relevant for 4 key sectors:

Infrastructure Productivity. Use of gravity sensors within surveys could reduce project overspend from 100% to 20%. We will focus initially on railway applications, yielding a potential saving of >£250M p.a. Mobile gravity sensors will accurately locate buried infrastructure, reducing utilities incurred costs of >£1.5 bn in street works and >6 million days of road disruption.

Oil and Environment. Conservative estimates indicate markets for quantum-sensors in oil surveys (£45M p.a.), volcano monitoring (>£200M), and carbon sequestration sites (>£100M p.a.) with obvious economic and environmental benefits, e.g. streamlining footprint and cost of oil exploration and enabling efforts to combat global warming. Use within soil-monitoring systems will facilitate 10% improvement in crop yield, helping to feed the global population

Healthcare. The economic cost of dementia is estimated at $1trn (World Alzheimer's Report 2015). MEG can monitor brain function which, with quantum sensors, can be made wearable. This will unlock new treatment pathways, enabling increased quality of life for patients and reducing the care load on society. Our magnetic brain scanning system will pave the way for myriad clinical and neuroscientific advances. Lifetime compliance enables data capture in children, enabling study of neurodevelopment. Free movement allows new experimental paradigms, e.g. in virtual environments, social interaction, or studying walking/falls in the elderly. At a cost <£100k, MEG could replace EEG as the technique of choice for epilepsy monitoring. Other clinical applications include brain injury, mental health and dementia. A 10% penetration of the 10,000 hospitals in Europe and US would yield a market of £100M.

Timing and Navigation. An estimated 6-7% of GDP in Western countries is dependent on SatNav (EU Commission 2011). In the UK, sectors generating a total of £206bn in GVA (11.3% of UK GDP) are supported directly by GNSS (London Economics 2017). The military navigation market was $8.4Bn in 2017 growing to $12.1Bn by 2023 (Markets & Markets: June 2018). Cold atom technology has the potential to supplant classical units, gaining a market share worth £7.5Bn in 2017 (QT Blackett review). Quantum timing could provide a GNSS resilient solution for telecoms, energy networks and financial trade impacting 4-5% of GDP. Ultra-low phase noise oscillators using optical clocks promise a step change in high resolution and distributed array radar - critical to aerospace and automotive applications for unmanned aerial / automotive vehicles - and will enable radar and communications systems to be placed closer together in the spectral allocation, freeing up highly valuable frequency bands in the congested EM spectrum.




Kai Bongs (Principal Investigator)
Lucia Hackermueller (Co-Investigator)
Peter Kruger (Co-Investigator)
Kasper Jensen (Co-Investigator) orcid
Chris Baker (Co-Investigator)
Aidan Shaun Arnold (Co-Investigator)
William Thomas Pike (Co-Investigator)
Rosalind Jones (Co-Investigator)
Timothy Mark Fromhold (Co-Investigator)
Yeshpal Singh (Co-Investigator)
Erling Riis (Co-Investigator)
Simon Bennett (Co-Investigator)
Jennifer Hastie (Co-Investigator)
Vasileios Apostolopoulos (Co-Investigator)
Edward Hinds (Co-Investigator)
Clive Roberts (Co-Investigator)
James Wilkinson (Co-Investigator)
Marc Sorel (Co-Investigator)
Paul F Griffin (Co-Investigator)
Ricky Wildman (Co-Investigator)
Constantinos Christofi Constantinou (Co-Investigator) orcid
Moataz M Attallah (Co-Investigator) orcid
Thomas Fernholz (Co-Investigator) orcid
Christopher John Tuck (Co-Investigator) orcid
Anne Tropper (Co-Investigator)
Douglas J Paul (Co-Investigator) orcid
Michael Holynski (Co-Investigator) orcid
Fedja Orucevic (Co-Investigator) orcid
Penny Anne Gowland (Co-Investigator) orcid
Matthew Jon Brookes (Co-Investigator)
Giles Dominic Hammond (Co-Investigator)
Richard Bowtell (Co-Investigator)
Paul Bryan Wilkinson (Co-Investigator)
Dominic Richard Sims (Co-Investigator) orcid
Nicole Metje (Co-Investigator)
Asaad Faramarzi (Co-Investigator)
Susan Spesyvtseva (Researcher)
Katie Isabella Gallacher (Researcher)
Mark George Bason (Researcher Co-Investigator) orcid
Joseph Paul Cotter (Researcher Co-Investigator) orcid


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