U.S. Army Researchers Beam Up Data
Future warfighters may teleport information across the battlefield.
Smartphones, tablets and mobile apps are the norm for today’s soldiers, but teleporting data may be typical for the troops of tomorrow. Scientists at the U.S. Army's Research Laboratory (ARL), Adelphi, Maryland, have successfully demonstrated information teleportation capabilities in the laboratory using entangled photons. The quantum computing breakthrough could lead to substantially improved cybersecurity, vastly superior data processing rates and dramatically enhanced situational awareness.
The recently announced demonstrations occurred in March. “We performed teleportation, and we performed teleportation exfiltration. Teleportation exfiltration is designed to be harder to detect by someone who attempts to eavesdrop,” says Ronald Meyers, ARL quantum information principal investigator. Teleportation has been demonstrated in other labs, but Meyers says he believes his team is the first to demonstrate teleportation exfiltration.
He indicates that proof of principle experimentation on a handheld data teleportation device could take place within a decade. The success of those experiments will dictate how soon such a device could be used for military operations. The researchers are in the process of patenting the teleportation exfiltration technology.
When photons are entangled, what happens to one affects the other regardless of the distance between them. It is similar to one twin feeling pain when the other twin’s cheeks are pinched a world away. In entangled photon-based teleportation, a photon carrying potentially many bits of information interacts with one of an entangled pair of photons, and then the information is teleported to the other distant entangled photon for the recipient to read.
A qubit, or unit of quantum information, can be transported from one location to another, without having to move a physical particle along with it. “A single information photon can carry data encoded in its polarization. The information photon is made to interact with one of a pair of entangled photons,” Meyers explains. “By an amazing quantum physics process the photon’s data is then spontaneously teleported to the remaining entangled photon no matter how far away it is. Of course, this can be repeated many millions of times to transfer great amounts of data.”
Although data teleportation has only occurred in the laboratory so far, Meyers says one day it will likely be normal operating procedure. “As the engineering evolves, the scientific equipment is becoming miniaturized. Solid state implementation quantum memories will eventually allow handheld devices. I think our children or grandchildren may grow up to think that teleportation with handheld devices is normal,” Meyers predicts.
For now, teleportation can only be done with large, complex laboratory equipment but researchers are making rapid advances. “Today’s teleportation equipment is for testing the science, so it is larger than will be needed for eventual operational implementation. Equipment includes that needed for encoding the information into polarization; generating entangled photons; interacting the photons; measuring quantum states; precision timing; and transmitting and receiving entangled photons,” Meyers says. “Research is progressing to achieve teleportation over longer distances.”
Currently the ARL team sends entangled photons over an optical fiber that goes from the laboratory under the Washington, D.C., beltway, the interstate system surrounding the nation’s capital. The optical fiber is a convenient pathway on which to distribute the photons. Once the entangled photons are distributed, informatino can easily go back and forth, whether or not the optical fiber is in place. "Initially information sufficient for proof-of-principle experiments was teleported. The information that is encoded in each information photon's polarization potentially can contain many bits of data for any purpose, such as transferring images. A successful teleport transfers securely all the information carried by the information photon. The process is repeated for teleportation of information from many photons, Meyers adds.
But additional breakthroughs may make today’s Internet look a lot like your father’s Oldsmobile. “The idea is to achieve exponential improvements in security and speeds in future information teleportation networks than is possible on the Internet,” he says.
The breakthrough stems from quantum information science insight and quantum information processing technology the ARL team has developed over the last two years. The technologies include an information teleportation exfiltration testbed and a teleportation exfiltration approach to move quantum images securely, a significant achievement as current secure network communications are increasingly vulnerable to eavesdropping and potential illegal hacking.
The team also has developed a prototype information teleportation network system as part of the testbed to quantify teleportation of information. “Today the Internet is threatened by hacking. In the future as quantum computers come online, we need to protect Army communications from disruption. Our teleportation scientific research is aimed at implementing secure high-speed information teleportation networks that are vital for the U.S. Army,” Meyers states.
According to Meyers, the team believes the teleportation exfiltration approach will be successful between mobile assets over long distances at high speeds, just as their quantum ghost-imaging achievements are leading to a new generation of battlefield imagers. In addition, the method is being developed to be robust for adverse military environments with turbulence and obscurants. The success in achieving quantum teleportation over long distances through an obscured battlefield is difficult, but future mobile ad-hoc information teleportation networks can give the future Army exponential advantages in cyber security, speed and bandwidth. “The military networks are on the move. They tend to be in areas that may not have any infrastructure, so the military has to have its mobile infrastructure on-the-fly. This would be for ground-to-ground, ground-to-air, ground-to-satellite communications,” he says.