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Outcomes of Quantum Next Generation 2021 and Quantum Camouflage Challenge 2021

21 June 2022
Quantum Next Generation and Camouflage Challenge 2021 logos side by side

A central pillar of Army’s Quantum Technology Roadmap is the conduct of Quantum Challenges. These Challenges seek to leverage Australia’s national strategic strength in quantum technology in order to rapidly identify the most disruptive and advantageous applications of quantum technologies in the land domain. 

In late 2021, Army conducted two major challenges:

  • The Quantum Next Generation Challenge 2021 (QNG21) was the first in a regular series of technology challenges targeting Australian postgraduate students, early career researchers and early-stage start-up entrepreneurs; and,
  • The Quantum Camouflage Challenge 2021 (QCamo21) that targeted serving ADF members.

While the two challenges targeted very different communities, both addressed a common scenario that arose as a result of technology demonstrated in Quantum Technology Challenge 2021. In that challenge event, a team demonstrated the enhanced capabilities and deployable nature of potential quantum magnetometers. Based on that outcome, QNG21 and QCamo21 teams were tasked to develop a solution to counter a UAV mounted quantum magnetometer. This could involve developing a means to either:

  • conceal our soldiers and assets from detection by airborne quantum magnetometers by reducing their magnetic signature in contrast to their surrounding environment; or
  • developing a solution that directly disrupts the quantum magnetometer

This Post will:

  • Outline the challenge methodology;
  • Describe the solutions proposed by both the academic an in-service teams competing;
  • Give an overview of the challenge’s assessment processes and future pathways of the winning teams;
  • Highlight key takeaway points to refine the design and conduct of future Challenges; and
  • Identify relevant considerations in future Quantum Challenges and their role in Army’s further development and adoption in this area.

Challenge methodology

Teams were selected after a call for nominations was released in mid-2021. Nominees were required to submit a short proposal about their team and proposed solution.

Quantum Technology Workshop

As part of Army’s support to the initiative, Challenge teams had regular coaching meetings with members of RICO’s Quantum Technology Cell. These coaching sessions provided expert level advice relevant to both the quantum and land domains as well as feedback on the teams’ progress and future directions.

At the conclusion of the development phase, Challenge teams were invited to present their solutions at a ‘Pitchfest’, which was conducted as part of the Australian Institute of Physics Summer Meeting. In the Pitchfest, teams from each Challenge competed with one another for the opportunity to receive special admission to the Army Robotics Expo 2022, Quantum Technology Challenge 2022 (QTC22) and the Army Innovation Day 2022.  The prize also included an invitation to submit a proposal for funding to further develop their solution and to demonstrate it as a special entrant into QTC22.

Joint Quantum Next Generation and Quantum Camouflage Challenge Pitchfest

Challenge teams were assessed against a range of criteria including:

  • the extent to which the proposed solution solved the challenge and could be employed by Army;
  • the feasibility of developing the technology required and for it to perform as predicted;
  • technical depth and quality;
  • the anticipated timeframe  to develop the solution in line with the development of quantum magnetometer field deployment; and
  • overall team performance demonstrated by the amount and quality of work completed and the presentation of required reports and the final pitch presentation.

The assessment was conducted by an evaluation panel of senior military officers, and Quantum community experts from research and industry, with the Pitchfest itself observed by attendees, both on site at the AIP Summer Meeting and online around Australia.

Challenge solutions

QNG21 had two Challenge teams participating. These teams and the solutions they pitched were:

  • The Australian National University (ANU) team investigated characteristics of the earth’s background and the limitations of UAV mounted quantum magnetometers. This team focussed on environmental characterisation that would allow land forces to use the earth’s magnetic background to mask their magnetic signature as a planning consideration when moving through the battle space, including the potential use of decoy magnetic field generators.
  • The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) team proposed a solution that would suppress the magnetic signature of an armoured fighting vehicle in real time. The solution used measurements of the earth’s background magnetic field strength, the magnetic field strength above the vehicle along with the vehicle’s magnetic signature. These measurements would then be used to determine the appropriate strength of a magnetic field to be generated by a distributed 3-axis magnetic field generator with the aim of reducing the apparent signature of the vehicle to within the detection limits of an adversary’s UAV.
QUT S.M.A.R.T. (Suppression of Magnetic Anomalies in Real Time) System displayed. A land battlespace on the ground inside a bubble with lines depicting magnetic field lines with arrows pointing upward from the ground and a UAV flying in the sky
Figure 1 – Top-ranked QNG Team from Queensland University of Technology solution of suppression of magnetic anomalies in real time.

QCamo21 had 4 Challenge teams competing. These teams and their solutions were:

  • 10 Light Horse Regiment (XLH) from Western Australia proposed a solution that involved the application of maritime techniques to reduce the magnetic signature by de-gaussing and de-perming land capability equipment to reduce its overall magnetic signature. The solution would be a theatre deployable asset that could be used for small arms through to vehicle systems.
Solution concept of a deployable system for reducing the magnetic signature of equipment in the land domain by the top-ranked QCamo team from 10th Light Horse Regiment
Figure 2 – Solution concept of a deployable system for reducing the magnetic signature of equipment in the land domain by the top-ranked QCamo team from 10th Light Horse Regiment.
  • Electronic Warfare Quantum Computing (EWQC) whose approach involved interfering with the quantum magnetometer itself by targeting specific frequency bands in the electromagnetic spectrum to interfere with the internal operation of the sensor.
  • Quantum Mechanics was an inter-service team consisting of Army and Navy members who proposed a solution called the Deceptive Projectile Generator. This that would use a form of magnetic obscuration using a projectile launched system in a similar fashion to smoke grenades or anti radar chaff used by aircraft
  • Emu Riders and Land Dwellers’ solution was to use a number of networked sensors mounted on vehicles, personnel and decoys to measure background magnetic readings and to generate magnetic fields to mask friendly forces within the limitations of the detector system.

Challenge solutions and outcomes

The assessment process was made difficult due to the high quality of solutions and work provided by the teams, with final results being extremely tight in both the QNG21 and QCamo21 competitions.

The judges were impressed by the level of technical depth and the amount of experimental and simulation work done by both of the QNG21teams. They developed well-grounded and scientifically accurate solutions to a potential application and domain in which they may not have had close familiarity.

Equally, the wide array of credible solutions posed by the QCamo21 service teams demonstrated to the assessment panel the high level of technical expertise that Defence can harness outside of its traditional capability and technology work areas. The QCamo21 teams provided ideas that ranged from the application of in-service equipment for other applications, modification of other service techniques to the land domain, and ideas that were novel and creative. The potential to grow quantum technology familiarity and experience within the Defence workforce is promising given the level of interest and the quality of the solutions presented within QCamo21.

For QNG21, the winning team was the team from QUT, comprising Timothy Cosgrove and Fraser Williams, for their Suppression of Magnetic Anomalies in Real Time (SMART) proposal. The winning QCamo21 team was XLH from the 10th Light Horse Regiment for their deployable de-perming station.

The winning teams have been invited to continue the development of their solutions with the aim of presenting at Army’s Quantum Technology Challenge in August 2022 alongside industry proposals. Both winning teams have been offered travel to, and attendance at, the Army Robotics Expo. In addition, all competing Challenge teams will be invited to send one representative to attend the ARX and Quantum Technology Challenge sponsored by Army.

Conclusion

As part of the Army Quantum Technology Roadmap, the Challenges allow Army to generate interest in, and consideration of, Quantum Technology - including how it may impact the land domain.  Importantly, it assists Defence to identify partners in academia and industry to develop Quantum Technology capabilities for the future land force.

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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