Quantum and AI bring big leap to navigation tech

Knowing exactly where you are is critical. And figuring out how to do that without vulnerable GPS signals has propelled an Australian navigation tech company into new territory.

Advanced Navigation’s lightweight internal navigation systems (INS) don’t need maps, transponders or remote control. Nor do they need to see the stars. But by using quantum tools and AI they are capable of calculations so precise that they can land a space probe on Mars.

The company’s Light Detection, Altimetry and Velocimetry (LiDAV) system produces precise three-dimensional velocity and altitude data. It will be part of Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander being built as part of NASA’s lunar logistics program.

Advanced Navigation says its product series called “Boreas” is the world’s first digital fibre-optic gyroscopes (DFOG) inertial navigation system (INS).

The technology is essentially a gyroscope, like those found in traditional inertial navigation systems. But it exploits the properties of digital fibre optics to make calculations at the quantum level, producing far more accurate results.

“An INS uses the starting point of a vehicle to determine its position as it moves,” says Xavier Orr, Advanced Navigation CEO and co-founder.  “The INS measures the vehicle’s motion (its acceleration and angular velocity) with accelerometers and gyroscopes.”

Xavier orr
Xavier Orr (Image Advanced Navigation)

Advanced Navigation fuses this data into an AI algorithm, which then determines the vehicle’s positional changes from the starting point. But even a tiny error – especially near the start of a mission – can quickly multiply to a dangerous degree.

“All accelerometers have some degree of error… but with quantum accelerometers, the errors are magnitudes lower,” Orr explains. “Quantum technology enables the system to have an extraordinary leap in performance… this is particularly critical for long-endurance missions, where spacecraft may be travelling for hundreds of days.”

This week, Advanced Navigation opened a new robotic manufacturing facility based at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Tech Lab in Botany Bay, which will enable the commercial-scale production of the complex machinery behind its cutting-edge technology.

A $5.2 million Supply Chain Capability Improvement Grant was issued under the Australian Space Agency’s Moon to Mars initiative. This project is designed to support universities and startups develop new technologies for space-based industry and NASA’s Artemis moon mission. But it also aims to help them reach the point of manufacturing their own products to contribute directly to these international supply chains.

“There is a critical need to improve Australia’s economic complexity and sovereign capabilities”.

“A key step is to build our industrial capacity in high-tech, as well as drive knowledge exchange and propel collaborative initiatives between government agencies, academic institutions and industry leaders.”

But the UTS and Advanced Navigation collaboration also has objectives much closer to home.

They are working on a Cloud Ground Control system for coordinating autonomous vehicles for commercial and emergency service fleets.

And an indoor positioning system is being designed to support visually impaired people to find their way through complex environments, such as underground train stations.

Subscribe to our quarterly print magazine

Please login to favourite this article.