The Gravity Pioneer project hopes to end investigative drilling

The Gravity Pioneer project, a UK consortium of leading scientific and engineering companies, which has been awarded £6 million in research funding from UK Research and Innovation, is working to develop a new industry of quantum cold-atom sensors that will detect and monitor objects beneath the ground better than any current technology, thereby reducing the need for investigative drilling or digging.
The Gravity Pioneer project hopes to end investigative drilling The Gravity Pioneer project hopes to end investigative drilling The Gravity Pioneer project hopes to end investigative drilling The Gravity Pioneer project hopes to end investigative drilling The Gravity Pioneer project hopes to end investigative drilling

An engineer using a gravity sensor

Duncan Moore

Editor

Duncan Moore

The Project, made up of Teledyne e2v, Fraunhofer UK, Altran, Geomatrix Earth Science, Magnetic Shields, UniKLasers, Silicon Microgravity, Optocap, QinetiQ, the University of Birmingham and the University of Southampton and led by RSK, aims to build and test a new gravity instrument that will have demonstrable benefits over existing technologies on the market.

The University of Birmingham is the academic lead for the project - building on strong collaboration between the School of Physics and Astronomy and the Department of Civil Engineering to provide expertise in the development and use of quantum technology-based gravity gradient sensors for practical applications.

"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. Working with leading UK universities, it aims to demonstrate a 2× sensitivity improvement and a 10× measurement speed improvement over the industry standard gravity sensor.

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