By Carolyn Mathas

While it’s the go-to technology for applications ranging from military to underground exploration, the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite-based radio navigation system has its challenges—including unavailability and the possibility that it can be intentionally denied or spoofed. Earlier this year, the USAF awarded SandboxAQ a Direct-to-Phase-II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract to research quantum navigation technologies.

A full eight 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 an ongoing readiness and modernization effort to augment GPS. The goal is to develop an Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (APNT) solution that delivers uninterrupted navigation. For the tests, SandboxAQ’s quantum navigation prototype was installed aboard a USAF C-17 GlobeMaster III military transport aircraft and it successfully received geomagnetic navigation data on the ground and during multiple in-flight tests.

According to Jen Sovada, President of the Public Sector, SandboxAQ, “This breakthrough represents a game changing technology for navigation systems as we currently know them. The technology not only enhances current GPS capabilities, it also can be used when GPS is not available due to jammed systems or when there is a lack of a signal due to natural or hostile blocks to the system. Because GPS relies on satellite radio waves, these signals can be jammed by hostile entities or even by mountains, tunnels, and places which can’t receive the signals, thus stopping the global positioning satellite from doing its job.”

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

The quantum-sensor technology improves the safety and geospatial accuracy for military operations as well as a host of other applications including commercial transport, business and leisure travel, autonomous vehicles, and underwater or underground exploration.  Key features of SandboxAQ’s quantum navigation system include an unjammable worldwide signal since the Earth’s magnetic field is omnipresent and unjammable, it provides a trusted signal from any location. Quantum sensors are not influenced by clouds or other weather conditions. Quantum-based navigation needs no visual ground features—making it a valuable tool for air, open water, remote terrain, underwater and underground. Sharing data generated by quantum sensors is expected to enhance global magnetic maps for a variety of stakeholders and use cases.

VisitSandboxAQ at the GEOINT Symposium, May 21-24 at Booth #1408, where demos and discussions will include a SandboxAQ security suite demo, magnetic anomaly navigation, drug discovery, material science, and more.

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

May 22, 2023