Quantum (QT) technology is one such game changer and RSK is collaborating on two research projects looking at how QT can detect objects below ground. The field trials in each project have shown that using QT technology could enable an increase in sensitivity by a factor of up to 10 or more over existing spring-based gravity meters, thereby providing knowledge about more assets and hidden features in the subsurface.
The first project applies QT gravity sensors to railway projects. The second involves the new industry of quantum cold-atom sensors. Read more about each project below.
QT gravity sensors and the railway
The collaboration between RSK, Atkins, Network Rail and the University of Birmingham, UK, involved a feasibility and market assessment study to determine the potential of using QT gravity sensors along railways.
RSK principal geophysicist Matt Stringfellow talked about the project, Quantum Technology – Potential for railway infrastructure, in Rail Professional and in Civil Engineering Surveyor. Matt explained, “The main aim is to locate and assess the condition of buried assets buried beneath the railway network, such as buried drainage, as well as the amount of groundwater within railway embankments and cuttings, which can be critical to their stability and performance and impact on the smooth running of the network.
“Existing geophysical sensors are commercially used to detect the location of ducts and pipes in roads; however, they have limited success on the railway. New technology is needed to significantly improve our current knowledge on the location and condition of buried assets and embankment infrastructure,” he continued.
The project has been carrying out field trials and surveys at two sites in Nottinghamshire, UK, to test the potential of QT gravity sensors and the limitations of the existing detection methods. As well as locating drainage, the sensors have also been able to detect hidden voids ranging from badger setts, unknown hidden shafts and mine workings to, most significantly, a hidden underbridge.
You can read Matt’s article in full in Rail Professional, pp.94–97. RSK’s work on the Oxford corridor project, written by principal environment manager Kim Olliver, features on pp.83–87 of the same issue.
Quantum cold-atom sensors
RSK is part of a UK consortium of leading scientific and engineering companies aiming to develop a new industry of quantum cold-atom sensors to detect and monitor objects beneath the ground better than any current technology, which will reduce the need for investigative drilling or digging. The Gravity Pioneer project was awarded £6 million in research funding from UK Research and Innovation.
RSK will run the Gravity Pioneer project and work with 11 project partners from prominent organisations currently engaged in quantum technologies in the UK: Teledyne e2v, Fraunhofer UK, Altran, Geomatrix Earth Science, Magnetic Shields, UniKLasers, Silicon Microgravity, Optocap, QinetiQ, the University of Birmingham and the University of Southampton.
“Despite our increasing ability to detect and monitor objects that exist on land, in the sea, around buildings or in space, our ability to detect objects beneath the ground has not improved significantly,” explains George Tuckwell, project lead and divisional director for geosciences and engineering at RSK. “When it comes to attempting to locate a forgotten mineshaft, determine the extent of a sinkhole or assess the quality of infrastructure, we still often resort to digging or drilling holes. This presents huge economic and societal costs as road networks are dug up, oil wells are dry or brownfield land is left undeveloped.”
Existing techniques for ground investigation include classical microgravity, ground penetrating radar and seismic technologies, but these can be limited in sensitivity, penetration or cost. Gravity Pioneer aims to develop a tested blueprint for a commercially relevant device that will overcome these challenges.
The consortium submitted a bid in response to the £20 million Quantum Technologies Pioneer Fund, which aims to develop prototypes in two years that could be used in future sensors, consumer electronics and digital services. The fund, which is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, implements the policies set out in the UK government’s white paper Industrial Strategy: Building a Britain Future for the Future, which was published in 2017.