Raytheon BBN working on Star Trek tech

Raytheon BBN working on Star Trek tech

If you thought inventing the Internet was a big enough accomplishment that you can rest on your laurels, you can’t work for Raytheon BBN Technologies — the actual inventors of said Internet. DARPA agrees, and is now funding Raytheon BBN in a program to create super high-capacity broadband encrypted communications that is all but unbreakable, and super high-resolution long distance imaging.

Oh, and as a side benefit, it could give you your messages or images instantly, no matter how far apart the sender and receiver are — 5 feet or 5 light years.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is really living up to its name on this one, giving Raytheon BBN $2.1 million for some seriously advanced research. The Cambridge-based deep thinkers will put the funds into two projects, both of which will use a feature of quantum physics known as quantum entanglement and both applied to using quantum-entangled light.

In the first project, given the tasty name of PIECOMM (Photon Information Efficient Communications), Raytheon BBN will try to use quantum physics to reach the limit of data density that can be packed into a stream of light. In the release about the funding, Raytheon BBN says the applications for such communications could be in “free space optical communication links, including far-field links used in deep space.” Fire up the subspace radio, Lt. Uhura!

The second project hints at the kind of data that might be sent over that crazy-dense laser link. FINESSE (Fundamental Information Capacity of Electromagnetism with Squeezing and Spatial Entanglement) aims to create the ultimate imaging technology, using quantum states of light that don’t normally exist. And that gets to the real science fiction aspect of the projects – the potential uses of the quantum entanglement that will be at their hearts.

With quantum entangled light, each photon is connected at a quantum level to a photon in a second stream of light. If any change happens to the first particle that change is reflected in the second particle. Because of that, any possible tampering — including simply looking at the first particle — will be known because it will happen to the second particle as well. That is a key to the super encryption, because any tampering could be made to change or destroy the data. But the real Star Trek item here is that the change in the light streams will occur at the same time, no matter how far apart they have become.

So, say you send a high-power laser pulse to a detected planet in another solar system some 10 light years away, using these systems being thought up by Raytheon BBN. Normally, you would have to wait for 20 years – 10 years out, 10 years back – to get any reflected light back, and the amount of coherent data left in the light stream would be essentially meaningless. No pictures. With a potential technology from these projects, the light stream would be able to carry huge amounts of redundant data, and it would only have to go through 10 years of possible quality degradation, because once it hits the planet in the other solar system, its twin, quantum-entangled light stream back here on Earth would change instantly to mirror what the other light stream detected. Instant Polaroids from deep space. Activate the long-range sensors, Mr. Checkov!

Of course, since the funding is coming from the Defense Department’s crazy ideas unit, and it is going to Raytheon BBN, not the old BBN Technologies that it was before defense giant Raytheon Co. bought it a little more than a year ago, one has to assume there are more terrestrial, military applications in mind for such technologies. How about instantaneous, HD-quality video imaging of any spot on the globe from a satellite, sent over an unbreakable encrypted optical stream? Or an encrypted unbreakable data stream so dense and so fast that it could be used for real-time, full-body virtual control of a combat robot from anywhere on the globe? Voltron powers, activate! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltron

Now, how long do I have to wait for the inevitable commercial offshoots? I would be happy with a data stream fast and dense enough that my recorded TV shows on my cable DVR don’t stutter or artifact when I play them back. But Voltron sure would be cool.

Read more: Raytheon BBN working on Star Trek tech | Boston Business Journal

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