May 25 2022Reviewed by Alex Smith
Hacked bank and Twitter accounts, deliberate power outages, and medical record tampering all pose a danger 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 pushing 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’ capacity to implement the first drone-based mobile quantum network that can smoothly maneuver around buildings, adverse weather and terrain, and fastly adapt to new 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 alongside Qubitekk, an award-winning pioneer in producing entangled photon sources as well as other hardware for networking quantum processors and sensors.
To share quantum-secured information, the network incorporates a ground station, drones, lasers, and fiber optics. Fiber optics, linked by laser beams from the ground and between aircraft and satellites, are used in communications networks, known as fiber and free-space optical networks. Drones are employed to rescue individuals, safeguard infrastructure, aid the environment, and block hostile military advances, such as in the Russian-Ukraine conflict.
The combination of quantum communication and unmanned aerial systems or UAS in this project represents an important advance in the Air Force’s efforts to create fieldable quantum systems for the warfighter. Additionally, the potential of secure communication from a portable quantum communication UAS in contested environments represents important future capabilities for the Air Force.
A. Matthew Smith, Ph.D, Senior Research Physicist, Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate, Florida Atlantic University
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 honorably for 28 years and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Miller was important in Qubitekk’s recent receipt of a $1.5 million government Phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant. Miller is also working with L3Harris, a fast-moving global aerospace and defense technology innovator who has been working on the project since 2019.
The team is working with the United States Air Force to bring together expert knowledge from academia, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, government, and industry, with the goal of scaling up the project for larger applications with higher aerial platforms, and other ground and maritime platforms in the future.
The contract award represents a new stage in the development of two technologies. For quantum, it’s a major step toward creating hack-proof quantum communication networks that will eventually span the globe, including in space. For drones and UAVs, it’s another milestone in their evolution as the workhorses of the Air Force for a wide range of missions and capabilities.
Arthur Herman, Ph.D, Senior Fellow and Director, Quantum Alliance Initiative, Hudson Institute
Quantum distribution is a secure communication mechanism that ensures the security of information exchanged between shared parties. This phenomenon includes a pair of light particles, or photons, that are created in such a way that their quantum states are indefinite but correlated so that the act of measuring one instantaneously determines the result of measuring the other, even though they are far apart.
Albert Einstein coined the phrase “Spooky Action at a Distance” to describe this phenomenon. Quantum physics, according to Einstein, should allow two things to immediately impact each other’s behavior across huge distances as if they were connected by a hidden communication channel.
Threading the eye of a small needle utilizing fiber optics and co-propagating wavelengths that incorporates a near-infrared or invisible beam at the single-photon level is equivalent to FAU’s commitment to the project and student engagement in the technology.
The entangled single-photon sources are created by concentrating a laser on non-linear crystals and then analyzing the photons that arise from the “down-conversion” process. The optical alignment system employs tilting mirrors to route photons to their intended destination. To communicate safely, single photons go one by one from one drone to another.
In war, for example, these drones would provide one-time crypto-keys to exchange critical information, which spies and enemies would not be able to intercept. Quantum protects our information using the laws of nature and not just by a clever manmade code. One of our collaborators aptly stated, ‘whoever wins the quantum race will win the war.’
Warner A. Miller, Ph.D, Professor, Physics, Charles E. Schmidt College of Science Florida Atlantic University
Miller aims to incorporate quantum memory into drones in the future so that they can correct errors, communicate, and store data.
“We are just scratching the surface of something that is going to amplify into a lot of different applications. This technology is not only going to be on drones or robots. Eventually, we will have this secure communication technology on buildings and satellites that will open up a free space optical link between them. The only limit is your imagination,” Miller concluded.
Quantum Drone Takes Cybersecurity to New Heights
Quantum Drone Takes Cybersecurity to New Heights. Video Credit: Florida Atlantic University.