Quantum Computing

SandboxAQ Tests a Quantum Navigation System with the US Air Force


By Carolyn Mathas

Although it is a go-to technology for applications ranging from the military to underground exploration, the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite-based radio navigation system has its challenges—including unavailability and the possibility that it could be deliberately rejected or counterfeited. Earlier this year, the USAF awards SandboxAQ Direct-to-Phase-II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to research quantum navigation technology.

Eight full months ahead of schedule, SandboxAQ successfully tested an advanced quantum sensor-based magnetic anomaly navigation system with the USAF. Test flights were held at Travis Air Force Base by the 60th Air Mobility Wing as part of ongoing readiness and modernization efforts to augment GPS. The goal is to develop an Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (APNT) solution that delivers uninterrupted navigation. For testing, the SandboxAQ quantum navigation prototype was mounted on a USAF C-17 GlobeMaster III military transport aircraft and successfully received geomagnetic navigation data on the ground and during several in-flight tests.

According to Jen Sovada, President of the Public Sector, SandboxAQ, “This breakthrough is a technological breakthrough for navigation systems as we know them today. This technology not only enhances current GPS capabilities, but can also be used when GPS is not available due to system crashes or when there is a lack of signal due to natural or hostile blocks on the system. Since GPS relies on satellite radio waves, these signals can be interfered with by enemy entities or even by mountains, tunnels and places where they cannot receive a signal, stopping the global positioning satellite from doing its job.”

“The SandboxAQ system is a passive technology. Quantum sensors passively receive geomagnetic data but do not transmit or reflect signals, reducing vehicle detection, which is important for military operations,” added Sovada. Quantum sensors are very sensitive to the slightest changes in electric and magnetic fields. The SandboxAQ system captures signals from Earth’s magnetic field, which represents an immutable global “fingerprint,” and compares the signals to existing map data, increasing overall positional awareness. SandboxAQ leverages artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms to filter out “noise” generated by airplanes or other vehicles to increase the speed and accuracy of signal processing.

Quantum sensor technology enhances safety and geospatial accuracy for military operations as well as a number of other applications including commercial transportation, business and leisure travel, autonomous vehicles, and underwater or underground exploration. The main features of the SandboxAQ quantum navigation system include untouchable world signals because the earth’s magnetic field is omnipresent and untouchable, this system provides reliable signals from any location. The quantum sensor is not affected by clouds or other weather conditions. Quantum-based navigation requires no visual ground features — making it a valuable tool for air, open water, remote terrain, underwater and underground. Sharing the data generated by quantum sensors is expected to improve global magnetic maps for different stakeholders and use cases.

Visit SandboxAQ at GEOINT symposiumMay 21-24 in Booth #1408, where demos and discussions will cover SandboxAQ security suite demos, magnetic anomaly navigation, drug discovery, materials science, and more.

Additional information about the SandboxAQ/USAF test flights is available in the posted press release Here.

May 22, 2023


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