Seeing underground

Seeing underground

At the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, we are developing the next generation of gravity sensors capable of detecting deep-underground hazards such as sinkholes, mineshafts and landslides faster and more precisely. This means potential catastrophes can be spotted earlier and averted.

Unknown underground conditions present the largest single risk in infrastructure projects and cause significant delays and cost overruns, potentially costing up to half a percent of the gross domestic product of the country, and gravity sensors promise to detect problems before the start of construction. Understanding what lies beneath the ground would also help to protect the existing infrastructure and necessitate fewer, less invasive roadworks. If a rail track can be surveyed weekly, landslips could be spotted before it is too late.

The technology allows sensors to penetrate much deeper below ground than current remote sensing tools are able to do and to make faster measurements of gravity. It opens the possibility of transforming huge sectors and industries, economically and from a health and safety point of view. Gravity sensors will also make a huge difference to everyday life – it will mean clearer roads, due to roadwork interventions, rapid broadband and mobile connections, and even more precise and accurate measurements of droughts, floods and ocean current levels. Other impacted applications include oil exploration, autonomous shipping, water resource management from space, and agriculture.

Gravity sensor development will also mean tackling problems such as developing sinkholes, which can be detected before it becomes critical, so that work can be done to stop it getting bigger and collapsing.

The majority of sensing techniques are limited in their ability to detect targets at depth, and are strongly influenced by ground conditions such as intervening media or weather, but quantum gravity sensing will be used to accurately assess deep targets and will provide an additional data steam for increased confidence.

There are significant benefits to the UK economy, for both companies that use gravity sensors and those in the supply chain that build them. Developments in this area will drive efficiency, innovation and show real economic benefits. At the UK Quantum Technology Hub Sensors and Timing, we are working with more than 20 industry partners such as RSK and Teledyne e2v, with around £6 million worth of industry commitment to developing gravity sensing technology.

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