How can quantum imaging shape the future of Transport?

Published: 11 February 2022

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Many government policies and organisations understand intelligent transport will play a fundamental role in the future of global travel. Driving up efficiency of our existing infrastructure to reduce congestion, pollution, and improve safety; we will find quantum imaging has a key role to play.

Intelligent transport is the active combination of current transport conditions with a relevant operator (computer or person) managing the network. This could be information at traffic lights, train stations, or relayed from a vehicle itself. Currently, conditions are monitored through a mix of sensors and cameras that all feed into a computer. The challenge is for these cameras to send concise, reliable, and insightful information for the computer to make quick, proactive decisions.

While cameras have improved immensely and made the prospect of intelligent transport systems possible, they have yet to escape several major limitations that quantum imaging is set to overcome.

Seeing in the dark and poor visibility.

The UK is no stranger to poor visibility from bad weather. With climate change set to introduce more extreme cases of rain, fog, and snowfall across the UK, cameras that require a clear view will not reliably support the intelligent transport of tomorrow. Indeed, times of poor weather are when intelligent transport systems are most needed. Nighttime provides another challenge with the fundamental requirement for daylight, or energy-consuming street lighting to see with a camera immediately limiting practical uses.

So how will quantum imaging help? Research in quantum imaging has centered on cameras that can detect the smallest amount of light – a single photon. Hence, despite fierce rain, fog, snow, or nighttime conditions, quantum cameras need only the smallest amount of light to get through, making them reliable.

Cameras that can see around corners and in 3D

If you can see the child running behind a car or the vehicle approaching that is out of your line of vision, collisions and accidents might be avoided. Traditional cameras rely on direct line of sight between an object and the camera. Yet, point a light at the ground in front of you and it shines out in all directions – even around corners, probing what is presently unseen.

Using quantum single-photon cameras, scattered light around a corner provides enough illumination to identify an object, meaning every surface becomes a mirror, bouncing information in all directions for a quantum camera to capture.

Quantum cameras go a step further and match their extreme light sensing with superfast time resolution. Like counting the time between lightening and thunder to know the distance of a thunderstorm, quantum devices can count the incredible short time taken for light to reach the camera from the object, meaning we know how far away an object is for every pixel. This means depth (3D) images can be made. Not only could a quantum camera know if a vehicle or person is around a corner, but it also knows exactly how far away and how fast it is going.

Self-drive cars, and the world of LiDAR

Major automotive manufacturers around the world are already investing in light-based distance and ranging (LiDAR) technology, the tool that allows self-drive cars to 'see’ the world around them. But these systems are expensive and fall under many of the same limitations as traditional cameras.

Research teams from Heriot-Watt University and the University of Glasgow are working with industry partners to move quantum single-photon avalanche diodes (SPADs) into LiDAR infrared regions. Critically, they achieve this with a silicon-sensor, an incredibly cheap, abundant, and well-established platform that computer chips are made from today. By adding germanium on top of the silicon-sensor researchers can reach key LiDAR wavelengths, bringing quantum technology to self-drive vehicles for a fraction of the cost. Ultimately bosting greater range, faster data rate, and 3D imaging in bad weather conditions.

Who is leading the quantum imaging revolution?

QuantIC, UK Hub for Quantum Enhanced Imaging, is part of the Government’s £1billion National Quantum Technology Programme - set up to exploit the potential of quantum science and develop a range of emerging technologies. Representing over 120 full-time world-class researchers in quantum technology across eight UK partner institutions, QuantIC’s combine single photon sensing with nonlinear optics, computational methods, and a range of specialised detectors to advance imaging technology for the benefit of society.

It is clear that transport is an area where real advances are being made and QuantIC is in the driving seat. If you have transportation challenges that you think QuantIC’s technology can solve for you, or want to hear about how QuantIC is supporting other sectors such as Climate Change, Defence and Security, Space or Healthcare, please contact our Business Development Manager,

First published: 11 February 2022