Pioneering robot poised to reach new heights in quantum
Press release issued: 17 November 2023
Scientists carrying out quantum research will be able to do so faster and more adaptably, thanks to a new robotic arm which could hold the key to major breakthroughs.
The invention, developed by researchers in Quantum Engineering Technology Labs and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) at the University of Bristol, has a unique design, allowing quantum experiments to be conducted with unprecedented levels of speed, detail and complexity.
Quantum technology has a host of potential real-world applications, from health advances in monitoring the condition of cells to communication in space.
Experiments in quantum often require highly constrained environments, sometimes combining ultra-low temperatures, atomic-scale interactions, and tightly-aligned laser beams.
By building robotic features into quantum experiments, scientists will now be able to investigate these experiments with increased prototyping speed, control, and robustness.
The research findings and robotic arm were presented in the journal Advanced Science today (17 November).
Lead author Dr Joe Smith, Senior Research Associate in the School of Electrical, Electronic and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Bristol said: “We couldn’t have performed this experiment using standard lab components, so we decided to look into robotics. We’ve shown that robotic arms are mature enough to navigate very complex settings. We’re very keen for this technology to improve all sorts of quantum sensing experiments, and hopefully leading to these experiments leaving the quantum optics lab and find further useful applications, like in cell diagnostics.”
Dr Smith and his team were inspired by the way robots are being increasingly used in surgery as they are able to navigate complicated areas of the body with high precision.
Co-author Dr Krishna Coimbatore Balram, Associate Professor in Photonic Quantum Engineering at the University of Bristol, said “This work demonstrates the importance of bringing developments from other fields, in this case robotics, to advance quantum technologies."
The high strength magnet the robot holds can be positioned anywhere in three-dimensional space at any angle, navigating around obstacles. Using tools such as electrodes, lasers, and mirror surfaces, robotic arms could facilitate more precise alignment and manipulation for various experimental set-ups.
'Robotic Vectorial Field Alignment for Spin-Based Quantum Sensors' by Joe A. Smith, Dandan Zhang, Krishna C. Balram in Advanced Science [open access]
Quantum Engineering Technology Labs (QET Labs)
Quantum Engineering Technology Labs (QET Labs) has a mission to take quantum science discoveries out of the lab and engineer them into technologies for the benefit of society. This includes novel routes to quantum computing hardware, quantum communications, enhanced sensing & imaging and new platforms to investigate fundamental quantum physics. QET Labs brings together over £25 million worth of activity and comprises over 100 academics, staff, and students in the Schools of Physics and Electrical and Electronic Engineering at the University of Bristol.
Bristol Quantum Information Institute
Quantum information and its translation into technologies is one of the most exciting research activities in science and technology today. Long at the forefront of the growing worldwide activity in this area, the Bristol Quantum Information Institute crystallises our research across the entire spectrum, from theory to technology. We foster partnerships with the private sector and provide superb teaching and training for the future generation of quantum scientists and engineers and the prototypes of tomorrow.
Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL)
Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is the most comprehensive academic centre for multidisciplinary robotics research in the UK. It is a collaborative partnership between the University of Bristol and the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and home to a vibrant community of over 200 academics, researchers and industry practitioners. The primary mission of BRL is to understand the science, engineering and social role of robotics and embedded intelligence. In particular, the key challenges surrounding adaptive robotics, namely: dealing with people and their unpredictability, unstructured and uncertain environments, and equipping robots for flexible roles.