Quantum Technology for Transport

Posted on: 15/02/2018

KTN’s Quantum Technology SIG and Transport Team organised an event to explore the possibilities and opportunities for Quantum Technology in Transport.


In 2015 the UK government launched a £400m, 5-year national programme to commercialise quantum technology.  The UK National Quantum Technologies Programme states “commercialisation of new quantum technologies is not only possible, but an opportunity that we should not ignore”.  With this objective, KTN held a workshop on the 8th of February at the Williams Formula 1 centre in Grove, bringing together transport professionals with quantum scientists and engineers to explore how new quantum capabilities and technologies can benefit the transport sector.

Setting the scene for the day, Bob Cockshott outlined the investment and opportunities of Quantum Technology within the UK, and how quantum development should be matched to markets and users.  Dr Rhys Lewis, Head of NPL’s Quantum Metrology Institute, who is leading on the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme specified at the event, that stage 2 of the programme will “make sure there is a strong industry led voice”.

Simon Shapcott, Head of R&D at the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, explained that safety, efficiency, mobility and productivity are potential benefits for CAV’s.  With the Industrial strategy set by government aiming for fully self driving cars on the road by 2021, Simon highlighted the challenges remaining that need to be addressed, including; see around corners and objects, processing power and AI, communication speed, cyber security, all weather sensors object detection and identification, and behaviour prediction of objects. Emphasising that “transport systems are on the cusp of a revolution”, Simon went on to explain that market opportunities for CAV’s are reported to be up to £52bn by 2035, with the enabling technology market having a share of up to £5.2bn, and further funding competitions are set to be announced shortly.

Aaron Mandalia, Project Coordinator CAV, SAIC Motor Technical Centre UK, supported this stating that Quantum Technology applications in sensing, secure communications and computing are “key areas with room for collaboration” between the sectors.  He further posed the question of how technologies can be packaged to fit into a consumer product, particularly in regards to faster processing on a smaller footprint and making more energy efficient processors.

Opportunities within the rail sector were presented by Mark Gaddes, from Network Rail, who commented that when inspecting over 20,000 miles of track  “how we do it, and can we do it quicker” are important factors.   He called on the quantum sector to help eradicate and identify problems for rail, stressing that Network Rail “need to be involved in the development process”.  Other than track inspection, there are further opportunities available with regards to monitoring and inspecting infrastructure, track geometry and faster data collection and communication, as well as those identified within the Rail Technical Strategy Capability Delivery Plan.

Following presentations by Simon Shapcott, Aaron Mandalia and Mark Gaddes, delegates were given the opportunity to pose questions to the speakers.  During this session the panel emphasised that space for processing equipment across the transport sector is limited and therefore packaging needs to be small.  It was also identified that a problem facing the transport sector in terms of LiDAR usage is that the cost of units is too large to be marketable.

Kevin McIver from QuantIC drew attention to QuantIC’s new range of cameras & sensors for imaging that are designed to offer companies a competitive edge, showing how technologies originally developed for the defence sector can be adapted to the transport sector to aid with search and rescue, and night driving of CAV’s.

Addressing the issue of cost with regards to LiDAR, Kevin summarised that QuantIC is working towards bringing costs down within this area to make it more accessible. He further stressed that often research labs or universities don’t know about the application areas or challenges that companies are facing and encouraged collaboration by industry.

Michael Holynski from the University of Birmingham explained that there is a £5bn a year cost caused by roadworks, and that when digging for a particular pipe this is often not found on the first attempt.  With the expectation of future sustainable cities demanding more underground infrastructure it was suggested that speeding up gravity sensing to precisely find what is under road surfaces could be a potential solution.

Nicole Metje from the University of Birmingham updated the audience on an Innovate UK funded project in collaboration with Network Rail entitled QT-PRI.  Drainage issues are a significant problem for rail travel causing delays and costing rail companies millions of pounds a year.  Network rail currently have over 1 million drainage assets although the location of 50-60% are currently unknown, the project is looking at the advantages of quantum gravity sensors in enabling faster more accurate measurements for geophysical surveys.  The project, which began in November 2017, has already identified improved detectability of 1.5 Р2 times over existing sensors.

During the afternoon, George Filip from KTN, facilitated a workshop session brought together delegates from transport and quantum technologies to explore the challenges and opportunities that quantum technology presented for the transport sector.  This was followed by an optional Grand Prix collection tour at the Williams Racing Centre.

Over 110 delegates attended the event, with active discussions and networking evident throughout the day.  One delegated commented that it was “very useful to get different disciplines together”.

Working collaboratively

KTN is working hard to link quantum capabilities to user needs and feedback those needs to technology developers, using our uniquely broad cross- sector connections. Keep up to date on future events and news by joining the KTN Quantum Technology Special Interest Group, signing up for the newsletter or following us on LinkedIn.

If you would like to discuss opportunities for innovation in quantum technologies for transport, please contact Bob Cockshott, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Quantum Technologies, or George Filip, Knowledge Transfer Manager for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Presentations and Workshop Feedback

Event presentations and a workshop feedback report is available here.


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