The National Institute of Standards and Technology has begun to experiment with “quantum radios” that might be able to support communications and mapping in environments where radios, global positioning systems and cellphones cannot operate reliably.
NIST said Tuesday its researchers are studying very low frequency digitally-modulated magnetic signals that can penetrate building materials, water and soil more deeply than electromagnetic communications signals at higher frequencies.
Submarine operators already use VLF electromagnetic fields to communicate underwater, but the low-frequency radios do not have enough bandwidth to support other communication modes than text messaging.
Submarines must also rise to about 60 feet below the water surface to be able to communicate using VLF signals.
Dave Howe, the NIST project leader, said that the use of quantum sensors may help achieve increased magnetic field sensitivity, which could lead to longer communication range and higher bandwidth.
The team demonstrated the use of a magnetic-field sensor powered by the quantum properties of rubidium atoms to detect digitally-modulated magnetic signals, or messages comprised of digital bits 0 and 1.
The researchers plan to build improved transmitters in the future as well as boost sensor sensitivity to expand the range and bandwidth of low-frequency magnetic field signals.