A new Royal Navy warship has completed its first journey guided by lasers.
XV Patrick Blackett, a 270-tonne vessel built by Damen Group, travelled from Portsmouth to the Thames in mid-May using the cutting-edge navigation system.
Submarines currently depend on “inertial navigation” systems, but the Royal Navy ship relied on quantum physics.
The technology has the potential in the future to provide GPS-free navigation, making it less susceptible to jamming, imitation or other sabotage.
While many navigation systems rely on global satellite systems, the quantum sensor is a new type of accelerometer which measures how an object’s speed changes over time.
By combining this information with rotation measurements and the initial position of the object, the current location can be calculated.
The quantum accelerometer uses ultracold atoms to make highly accurate measurements.
“We’re developing sensors with very, very low drift rates,” Dr Joseph Cotter, from Imperial College London, told The Times.
“In principle this should enable us to navigate much further than existing systems.”
Commander Michael Hutchinson, Commanding Officer of XV Patrick Blackett, added: “So far, the testing has gone well but the technology is still in its very early stages.
“It’s great to be a part of Royal Navy history.”
While the ship is operated by a very lean crew of five, there is also a team of 25 military personnel, civil servants and contractors behind the scenes.
NavyX chose to name the ship XV Patrick Blackett to honour the British physicist who won a Nobel Prize for Physics in 1948.
He served in the Royal Navy in the First World War and made a major contribution in the Second World War advising on military strategy and developing operational research – being named the Admiralty’s first director of Operational Research.