Thales is ready for disruption with quantum and AI

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Thales actively researches the evolution of its solutions through disruptive technologies. According to the company, quantum technology and artificial intelligence (AI) will play a significant role in the future. In fact, new Thales technologies are already ready to be adopted, but due to rules and processes from critical sensors, implementation is still pending. To a certain extent, you could say that Thales with its technology is beyond the outside world, which raises some questions.

We recently attended Thales’s InnovDays, where the innovations for the coming years were highlighted. During the event, it was clear that Thales believes in the application of quantum technology and AI, both within the critical sectors where it is active and for the masses. Thales believes that it will be the larger organisations that use very valuable applications because of the high costs, but over time more mass adoption will take place through commercialisation. Emerging technologies follow such a route more often, proves the past.

In contrast to this vision, quantum technology and AI are already applicable. Although the technologies are considered revolutionary, contemporary solutions already make use of them. However, it is expected that the true potential has not yet been reached. That is why it is assumed that a lot of disruption will take place. For Thales, this will be particularly in the areas of security, defence, public transport, aviation and space travel. The company supplies hardware and software to these sectors.

Most practical quantum technology

To make the hardware and software more sophisticated, Thales is working with the French National Centre for Science and Technology (CNRS), the University of Paris and a number of start-ups. These parties come together as much as possible at a single location in Paris, where they have laboratories at their disposal to carry out research into applications. Logically, it is decided there which projects really have the potential to bring about significant changes. Thales often demands that the quantum ideas relate to the promotion of sensors, communication systems or quantum computers.

By researching new sensors and radars, Thales hopes to be able to make much more accurate observations. Thales radar systems are currently used for military operations, for example. The Air Force uses the systems to know in detail what is going on around them. The current systems already spot cruise missiles and helicopters, and can also distinguish between different objects. However, the reality is that the airspace is becoming more and more crowded and advanced. This requires more accurate sensors, because a malignant drone may soon be difficult to distinguish from another object. A sensor system based on quantum sensors can detect such a thing much more accurately. In this specific situation, the sensors enable pilots to time and position themselves better. Thales believes that these advantages will eventually make quantum sensors applicable in many sectors. For example, a doctor could use them to detect tumours at a very early stage. We will sometimes even have no idea about future applications because we simply don’t think about them yet.

In addition to renewing sensors using quantum technology, Thales is also looking into whether communication can be improved. Here, too, the research can enhance military operations. Units use Thales communication systems to carry out missions so that they can easily exchange information. This has to be done very accurately and safely because an error can work to the advantage of the opponent. As the opponent deploys more and more sophisticated means, it is not inconceivable that they will eventually benefit from the cracking of systems. According to Thales, applying quantum technology to communication systems should make that impossible. In particular, quantum encryption is used for this purpose, which should lead to systems that are almost impossible to crack and that are very reliable.

Thales believes that quantum sensors and quantum communication can count on a good adoption rate within a few years. Proof of this is the participation of Thales in the European OPENQKD, an initiative that ensures that European countries implement infrastructure to test quantum communication. Critical sectors, such as healthcare and telecom, should be able to benefit from this.

Quantum computing much further off

In contrast to sensors and communication systems, the application of quantum computers is something that will not be applied for the time being. This in itself is logical, because despite the fact that quantum computing has been talked about for some time, it is a technology that is difficult to put into practice. Most experts agree that it is an innovation to solve problems that are still unsolvable, and a few examples are worth mentioning. However, when we really live in a world with many quantum computers, things get much more unclear. The technology simply needs time for further development.

Nevertheless, Thales firmly believes in quantum computing because of the calculations that are possible. These calculations are made using qubits. With a traditional computer, a bit can only have the value zero or one. A qubit, on the other hand, can be a zero or a one, or a zero and a one at the same time. This is because of the order processing, where multiple results may be possible. You could compare this process with asking a question that has multiple correct answers. It is assumed that this approach offers new opportunities, as complex calculations can be done quickly.

Artificial intelligence already applied

The last disruptive technology Thales believes in is AI. In doing so, the company strives to use only AI at the very highest level, we noted earlier. In short, Thales believes that today’s AI is often still stupid. To achieve more intelligence, the company therefore looks at algorithms that explain how they come to their decisions. By focusing on the explanations, it is possible to correct errors and perfect AI.

The bar is set quite high at Thales, so sometimes it is still waiting for actual implementation. The value for a specific application needs to prove itself before the technology is actually used.

Nevertheless, Thales already applies AI within its solutions, as the company made clear during InnovDays. For example, it has built a check-in gate with AI on-board for transport service providers. Two basic technologies are used: facial recognition and a ticketing system. To get through the gate, the user has to register by means of the app, after which a scan at the gate can grant access. In itself, a rather fine application compared to traditional applications, where irritations such as the loss of a ticket sometimes occur. This system is already being tested at airports, but the application could also be used by railway companies.

Obstacle for innovation

Thales’s ideas are often beautiful, but the reality is that the company is sometimes hampered in implementing innovations. Because Thales is active in critical sensors, it has to deal with all kinds of rules and procedures. For example, a new system for the cockpit of an aircraft was shown during InnovDays, which is not expected to be implemented for another five years or so. The system is as good as finished, after which the certification processes from the aviation sectors still have to be finalised. Because this process will take several years, there is a danger that the aviation sector will soon be using outdated technology again. Situations of this kind are far from ideal, but they are something that Thales faces.

Clear vision has to become reality

Thales’s approach to disruptive technologies is quite clear. It believes that quantum sensors, quantum communication and quantum computing will have a breakthrough in all possible ways, and AI will also bring about the necessary change.

However, the technologies in practice need to show how valuable they really are for Thales. If the government is too late with the introduction of AI because of legislation and regulations, there is a risk of a backlog. Thales itself may not be able to do anything about this, but it is an annoying obstacle.

We are, therefore, curious to see what the disruptive technologies can mean even further. After all, Thales itself is sometimes ready to bring about change, but the sectors are not yet.