News Feature | November 24, 2021

Bright Ideas — Defense Contractors Tasked With Destroying Hypersonic Missiles, Record-Breaking Quantum Computer Tops 256 Qubits

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By Abby Proch, Electronics Editor

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Staking its claim this week as having created a quantum computer with the most qubits is QuEra Computing, as reported by MIT Technology Review. Founded by Harvard University and MIT physicists, QuEra claims its latest creation harbors a record-breaking 256 qubits. That’s up considerably from the 127 touted recently by IBM. What’s notable about this iteration isn’t just its number of qubits, which inch closer to the thousands needed to outpace classical computing. It’s the computer’s platform that stands apart.

QuEra’s machine platform uses arrays of neutral atoms that, when excited by a laser into a Rydberg state, produce highly entangled qubits with remarkable coherence. With that, the physicists have arranged the qubits into a Mario Bros. GIF (Space Invaders, too), with the hopes of more practical computing happening down the line.

In military and defense news, the Missile Defense Agency awarded three contracts for the development of a glide phase interceptor (GPI), a cutting-edge hypersonic weapon that disrupts or destroys hypersonic missiles midflight. All three contracts — with Raytheon Missile and Defense ($20.97 million), Lockheed Martin ($20.94 million), and Northrop Grumman ($18.95 million) — culminate with a proof of concept due in September 2022, according to a contracts briefing provided by the Department of Defense. According to Breaking Defense, the GPIs are slated for naval use atop its Aegis cruisers.

When deployed, the GPI will be able to intercept hypersonic missiles (which travel considerably faster and at a lower altitude than ballistic missiles, making them harder to track and destroy) around 70km high and at speeds greater than Mach 5. MDA and the Space Development Agency are simultaneously seeking to develop and deploy a Hypersonic and Ballistics Tracking Space Sensor (HBTSS) satellite in low earth orbit (LEO) that can better follow hypersonic missiles after their boost phase. Hypersonic boost-glide weapons are one of the six emerging technologies identified by U.S. Congress as it seeks to strengthen the United States’ foothold as a global military leader.

Swapping sensors and other components for different lighting levels can be inconvenient, if not problematic, in many applications. But now, a University of Dayton graduate student has created a new optical filter that allows sensors to operate seamlessly in both daylight and nighttime conditions, according to a report by Phys.org. Under the guidance of electro-optics professor Andrew Saragan, Remona Heenkenda designed and fabricated an optical filter with a phase change material capable of being switched on and off by a small thermal pulse to capture either visible or near-IR light.

The design allows a single sensor or camera to operate in variable lighting conditions, which Heenkenda sees as a cost-savings boon to the increasingly technology-dependent automotive industry. With every model year, vehicles debut new technologies reliant on sensors and cameras to perform tasks like lane correction and crash avoidance. Heenkenda believes that with an optical filter like hers, automotive and other industrial manufacturers can save millions of dollars on parts.

Speaking of pesky car parts: No one likes visual assault of blinding headlights during a night drive. Thankfully, German LED lighting developer Lumileds has launched a bulb that’s exceptionally bright but thoughtfully directed. According to an Optics.org report, the company debuted the first German street-legal H4-LED headlights, capable of delivering up to 230% brighter light than earlier generations. What’s more, the company claims the bulbs are easy to install for those seeking to replace halogens on their own, and they feature a beam pattern that shines only on the road and avoids “dazzling” other drivers.

And in the same report, Optics.org also detailed Lumentum’s reported breakthrough in developing multi-junction vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser VCSEL arrays with high-performance 1D and 2D addressable arrays. These variations can offer much higher peak optical power densities and efficiencies for long-range applications like LiDAR. The LiDAR solution is also more compact and stronger than those without array addressability, suiting it well for automotive, consumer, and industrial applications.

Finally, Edmund Optics is bringing laser testing services in house with its news laser damage testing lab, according to a Yahoo! report. Operated by Dr. Matthew Dabney, a principal laser engineer, the Laser-Induced Damage Threshold (LIDT) lab will test optical components at 1064nm, 532nm, 355nm, and 266nm for nanosecond pulse durations, with plans to accommodate more. The lab is also working with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to update ISO 21254, updating the international standard that defines laser-induced damage specifications and test methods.