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Sensor initiative could reduce reliance on intrusive investigation

RSK is leading a £6M research project into quantum gravity sensors that detect and monitor objects beneath the ground better than any current technology, thereby reducing the need for investigative drilling or digging.

The Gravity Pioneer project has been awarded research funding from UK Research and Innovation to build and test a new gravity instrument that will have demonstrable benefits over existing technologies on the market.

RSK will work with Teledyne e2v, Fraunhofer UK, Altran, Geomatrix Earth Science, Magnetic Shields, UniKLasers, Silicon Microgravity, Optocap, QinetiQ, the University of Birmingham and the University of Southampton on the project.

“Despite our increasing ability to detect and monitor objects that exist on land, in the sea, around buildings or in space, our ability to detect objects beneath the ground has not improved significantly,” said RSK divisional director for geosciences and engineering George Tuckwell, who will lead the project. “When it comes to attempting to locate a forgotten mineshaft, determine the extent of a sinkhole or assess the quality of infrastructure, we still often resort to digging or drilling holes. This presents huge economic and societal costs as road networks are dug up, oil wells are dry or brownfield land is left undeveloped.”

According to RSK, existing techniques for ground investigation, such as include classical microgravity, ground penetrating radar and seismic technologies, can be limited by sensitivity, penetration or cost.

Gravity Pioneer aims to develop a tested blueprint for a commercially relevant device that will overcome these challenges. The project team are working with the universities within the group to demonstrate a two-fold sensitivity improvement and 10-fold measurement speed improvement over the industry standard gravity sensor.

The consortium submitted a bid in response to the £20M Quantum Technologies Pioneer Fund, which aims to develop prototypes in two years that could be used in future sensors, consumer electronics and digital services. The fund, which is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, implements the policies set out in the UK government’s white paper Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain Future for the Future, which was published in 2017.

Speaking about receiving the research funding, Teledyne e2V business development manager Richard Murray said: The project was proposed by a UK consortium of the best scientific and engineering companies the UK has to offer, from component manufacturers to instrument developers and end-users. A large factor in the bid’s success was the prominent role of end-users in the project structure and the full supply chain of service, instrument and component partners involved. Together, we are working to build a gravity instrument that works, that the marketplace wants and that provides value to users such as RSK and client organisations such as BP, Network Rail, HS2 and Airbus.

“The UK is world leading in quantum technology and the project brings together the best the UK has to offer in this field. Once we can demonstrate the advanced performance of quantum cold-atom sensors, the economic and societal benefits of this new quantum industry in the UK will be significant.”

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