‘Beam me up,’ says the narrator. The first quantum drone in the world provides unrivalled security.

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  • ‘Beam me up,’ says the narrator. The first quantum drone in the world provides unrivalled security.
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‘Beam me up,’ says the narrator. The first quantum drone in the world provides unrivalled security.

Hacked bank and Twitter accounts, deliberate power outages, and medical record tampering all pose a threat to the nation’s health, money, energy, society, and infrastructure. Utilizing quantum physics to harness the laws of nature, a cutting-edge teleportation technique is taking cybersecurity to new, “unhackable” heights using tiny light particles or “beams.”

Warner A. Miller, Ph.D. of Florida Atlantic University is leading the United States’ efforts to deliver the first drone-based, mobile quantum network that can seamlessly manoeuvre around buildings, inclement weather, and terrain, as well as quickly adapt to changing environments such as warfare, in collaboration with Qubitekk and L3Harris.

The US Office of the Secretary of Defense has tasked FAU with developing the project with Qubitekk, an award-winning leader in manufacturing entangled photon sources and other hardware for networking quantum processors and sensors.

To share quantum-secured information, the network incorporates a ground station, drones, lasers, and fibre optics. Fiber optics are used in today’s communications networks, which are connected by laser beams from the ground and between planes and satellites. These networks are known as fibre and free space optical networks. Drones are employed to rescue lives, secure infrastructure, aid the environment, and block enemy military advances, such as in the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

“This project’s combination of quantum communication and unmanned aerial systems, or UAS, represents a significant step forward in the Air Force’s efforts to develop fieldable quantum systems for the warfighter,” said A. Matthew Smith, Ph.D., a senior research physicist with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate. “Moreover, in contested areas, the potential for secure communication from a portable quantum communication UAS promises key future capabilities for the Air Force.”

Miller is a physics professor at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science and a retired United States Air Force lieutenant colonel who served honourably for 28 years and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. He was instrumental in Qubitekk’s recent receipt of a $1.5 million federal Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant. Miller is also working with L3Harris, a fast-moving global aerospace and military technology pioneer who has been involved with the project since its inception in 2019.

Threading the eye of a fine needle using fiberoptics and copropagating wavelengths, which includes a nearinfrared or invisible beam at the singlephoton level, is equivalent to FAU’s commitment to the project and student involvement in the technology. The entangled single photon sources are created by concentrating a laser on nonlinear crystals and then processing the photons that arise from the “downconversion” process. The photons are guided directly where they need to go by tilting mirrors in the optical alignment system. To communicate safely, single photons go one by one from one drone to another.

“In a combat situation, for example, these drones would give one-time crypto-keys to communicate important information that spies and foes would be unable to intercept,” Miller explained. “Quantum safeguards our data by relying on natural laws rather than a cleverly crafted code. “Whoever wins the quantum race will win the battle,” as one of our collaborators put it.

Miller hopes to put quantum memory onto the drones in the future so that they may perform error correction, communicate, and store data.

“We’re only touching the surface of something that will amplify into a variety of applications,” Miller said. “This technology will not be limited to drones or robots.” This secure communication system will eventually be installed on buildings and spacecraft, allowing for a free space optical link between them. “Your imagination is the only limit.”

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