SandboxAQ Announces AQNav: Commercial Real-Time Navigation System Powered by AI and Quantum to Address GPS Jamming - Inside GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite Systems Engineering, Policy, and Design

SandboxAQ Announces AQNav: Commercial Real-Time Navigation System Powered by AI and Quantum to Address GPS Jamming

SandboxAQ has announced AQNav, a navigation system designed for air, land, and sea navigation in environments where GPS signals are jammed or unavailable. After development and testing with government and private sector partners, AQNav aims to offer a resilient, unjammable alternative to GPS.

Addressing a Growing Threat

With a significant increase in GPS jamming and spoofing globally, initiated by nation-states and other malicious actors, both civilian and military airspaces are increasingly vulnerable. The need for a reliable, alternative navigation system has never been more critical. AQNav leverages proprietary AI algorithms and powerful quantum sensors to provide real-time navigation by utilizing the Earth’s crustal magnetic field.

AQNav has already logged over 200 flight-hours and completed more than 40 sorties across multiple regions and aircraft types, ranging from single-engine planes to large military transport aircraft. The U.S. Air Force, Acubed by Airbus, and Boeing have all successfully flight-tested the system, demonstrating its robust capabilities.

Technology Overview

AQNav is a geo-magnetic navigation system that harnesses the unique, geographically distinctive patterns of the Earth’s crustal magnetic field. The system uses highly sensitive quantum magnetometers to acquire data and AI algorithms to analyze this data against known magnetic maps. This enables AQNav to quickly and accurately determine its position, providing an unjammable, all-weather, terrain-agnostic, real-time navigation solution.

Eric Schmidt, Chairman of SandboxAQ and former Chairman and CEO of Alphabet, highlighted the system’s importance: “As a licensed jet pilot with many hours of flight time, I appreciate how much we rely on GPS for navigation. Our national defense relies upon GPS in the air, on land, and at sea. Given the ease of jamming and spoofing GPS, it is critical to have a global supplementary navigation system that works with inertial systems – this is what SandboxAQ has developed with AQNav.”

Jack D. Hidary, CEO of SandboxAQ, emphasized the broader implications: “GPS is a ubiquitous tool that billions of people rely on every day for their comfort, safety, security, and prosperity. The intentional disruption of this transformational technology by nation-states and others puts human lives at risk and impacts governments and economies.”

In January 2023, the U.S. Air Force awarded SandboxAQ a Direct-to-Phase-II Small Business Innovation Research contract to explore geomagnetic navigation. By May 2023, the company successfully completed the first flight tests of AQNav during Exercise Golden Phoenix, eight months ahead of schedule. The system was also flight-tested during Exercise Mobility Guardian in August 2023.

General Mike Minihan, Commander, Air Mobility Command (AMC), U.S. Air Force, stated, “We must embrace the realities of what it will take to maneuver the Joint force in a degraded and contested environment. Improving the Mobility Air Force’s navigation is one of the four major gaps we have focused on closing. Doing so requires innovative technological solutions to improve survivability and extend our ability to deliver victory.”

Collaboration and Future Applications

In addition to the USAF, SandboxAQ is collaborating with several aerospace leaders, including Boeing and Acubed, the Silicon Valley research and innovation center of Airbus. Acubed recently awarded SandboxAQ an RFP to continue evaluating the AQNav system for commercial aviation.

Eric Euteneuer, Principal Systems Engineer at Acubed, stated, “Acubed has installed SandboxAQ’s AQNav system on the Acubed test aircraft to test and train a magnetic navigation system and further research how quantum sensors and magnetic navigation can support a resilient navigation solution.”

How AQNav Works

AQNav utilizes quantum magnetometers to detect the Earth’s crustal magnetic field, which is unique to specific geographic locations. AI algorithms enhance the signal-to-noise ratio by filtering out interference, enabling the system to accurately determine its position. This capability provides a reliable navigation solution that works in conjunction with existing systems, including inertial and visual navigation.

Luca Ferrara, General Manager of Navigation at SandboxAQ, explained, “GPS is easy to jam and spoof. When planes and ships lose GPS in motion and switch over to inertial navigation systems, the vehicle then drifts and soon finds itself off course. The Earth’s crustal magnetic field provides a persistent, passive external signal, making it a highly reliable data source for navigation.”

Broader Implications

GPS interference disrupts not only transportation and logistics but also impacts agriculture, financial services, public infrastructure, environmental monitoring, utilities, and disaster response. As Dana Goward, President of the Resilient Navigation and Timing Foundation, noted, “GPS denial, jamming, and spoofing have become growing global concerns that jeopardize aircraft and passenger safety, disrupt other commercial and military operations, and affect the reliability of essential services.”

Beyond improving aviation, AQNav’s technology can enhance autonomous vehicle control and operate underwater, where GPS signals cannot reach. Admiral John Richardson (retired), former Chief of U.S. Naval Operations, emphasized the system’s military importance: “Systems like AQNav are absolutely essential to address this critical vulnerability. As a military and as a nation, we must mature these systems that allow us to maintain precision in a GPS-denied environment.”