HRL Laboratories has been awarded the Swift Alkali Vapor Emitter & Regulator (SAVER) Project to build a key component for future cold-atom clocks and other future systems of ultra-precise position, navigation, and timing (PNT). SAVER will build upon HRL’s previous success building a source of atoms for cold-atom–based devices such as in portable atomic clocks.
“With our earlier cold-atom source we showed we could build a solid-state, electrically controlled way to regulate rubidium vapor pressure to cool down the rubidium atoms,” said Chris Roper, HRL’s principal investigator on the SAVER project. “With this new project we intend to do that faster and more intensely. Future PNT systems that use this type of technology could be orders of magnitude more accurate and function without GPS assistance. Also, industries that depend on precision timing, such as financial networks, could eventually benefit.”
While HRL’s previous atom source displayed improved performance of a cloud of atoms cooled to microkelvins in a magneto-optical trap by collaborators at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, success on the SAVER project will enable use of HRL-made devices with even colder atoms that can form a quantum state of matter known as a Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC). The quantum properties of BECs enable ultra-precise PNT measurements since quantum systems are extremely sensitive to their surroundings, drastically improving the precision of gyroscopes or accelerometers. A PNT system using HRL’s SAVER’s technology with a BEC could be a fraction of the size of what is currently feasible, potentially shrinking the overall system size from several kitchen tables to the size of one laptop bag.
“With a sufficiently fast and intense controllable cold-atom source, we can go from a system that cools atoms down to temperatures of hundreds of microkelvin to a system that can produce BECs at temperatures on the order of a nanokelvin. That lower temperature improves precision, but the quantum capabilities of such a system take the precision to an unprecedented level.” Roper said.
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HRL Laboratories, LLC, Malibu, California (hrl.com) is a corporate research-and-development laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors specializing in research into sensors and materials, information and systems sciences, applied electromagnetics, and microelectronics. HRL provides custom research and development and performs additional R&D contract services for its LLC member companies, the U.S. government, and other commercial companies.
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