A few miles from Ipswich lies Adastral Park, home of BT's research and development teams.
Some 3,700 staff are based at the site, and over the years the work done here has been instrumental in turning once futuristic ideas into everyday technologies we now take for granted from fibre broadband to mobile phone data.
This focus on innovation continues to this day and V3 was invited to the site to find out more about some of the technologies the firm is working on, with a particularly slant on how they may be of use to the military.
Internet of Things
One area the site is focused on is the Internet of Things (IoT). BT explained how it is currently involved in the MK.Smart trial taking place in Milton Keynes, focusing on areas like air and water quality, parking and bin collection.
While the use of the IoT within civilian life is well-documented, Tony Boyle, strategy director of Global Government and Health at BT, and who served 30 years in the military said there is potential for such technology to be used in military environments.
"Some army bases often the size of cities, such as Bastion in Afghanistan that equates to the size of Reading, so the scope for IoT use in this environment is definitely there."
This may not necessarily be things like parking or air quality, but BT is assessing how findings from the Milton Keynes trial could impact how IoT services are used within the military.
Similarly the use of 3D printers within many areas of business is known to be growing, albeit slowly, and BT Lead Consultant Iain Monteath, explained that the firms believes there is scope for 3D printing in a military capacity.
"Rather than taking, for example, several drones on a ship when it leaves port, a ship may just take a 3D printer and then use that to print the part it needs to assembly the right tool for the job once it's assessed the situation."
BT has already started embracing the use of 3D printing within its own operations too, with Monteath explaining how a request from engineers for ideas that would help their job led to the creation of ‘plastic needles' to thread cables in cabinet boxes (visible in the middle left, shaped like giant tears).
The product was the idea of a single engineer but the use of 3D printers allowed BT to produce a version and sent it out to 20 to test in a quick and relatively cheap manner.
Developed by researchers at the University of Edinburgh, LiFi uses light to send information from a lightbulb to a device with the necessary capabilities to receive the information.
The image below shows a laptop receiving data via an adaptor from a light directly above that provides internet access.
BT has teamed up with PureLiFi, the company behind the technology, to bring their scale and expertise onboard, as it looks to ensure the technology can fulful its potential in numerous areas.
One such use could be for in-building mapping, as the lights within a building, such as hospital, would form a network that would double as a map of the location, helping providing in-building directions.
Another military-related application is to set different security levels on different lights. This would mean if someone with a certain security clearance stood under the light they would be able to access certain information, while others could not.
A final, more humdrum example, is that it could be used to broadcast WiFi in a children's bedroom, with the benefit that if you turn the light off the WiFi connection goes too.
Quantum Key Distribution
Sending encryption keys is a time-consuming business. It often involves the old-fashioned method of sending someone with a locked briefcase to a destination with new codes that are used for around six months before being replaced.
Quantum key distribution (QKD) could change his for every. It works by sending a single photon of lights down a fibre connection supplying a new encryption code.
The picture above shows an example of someone tapping into the connection and, depending on how much they interfere with the connection, how obvious it is that someone was attempting to read the communications.
The benefit of this is that if someone tries to tamper with the connection to look at the photon the very act of looking at it changes its nature, alerting those sending and receiving the information that something untoward has taken place.
BT has an example of this network in place at Adastral, demonstrating what happens if someone attempts to tap the connection and it is actively looking for customers and vendors to work on its development for future commercial use.
Obviously for military applications this could ensure the safety of data being sent between personnel, safe in the knowledge the enemy is not reading your messages.
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