(SpectrumIEEE) Chinese researchers are developing an airborne quantum communications network with drones as nodes.
A key problem with developing ground-based quantum networks is how fragile entanglement is; when sending photons over existing fiber-optic networks, this limits transmission distance and data rates. With that in mind, scientists have, in recent years, increasingly investigated quantum networks involving photons transmitted over open air.
Scientists in China and Europe are currently developing satellite-based quantum networks, enabling long-distance satellite-to-ground links. However, quantum satellites have a number of drawbacks.
Scientists at Nanjing University in China have designed a “quantum drone” to serve as an airborne node in a quantum network. The Chinese researchers developed an eight-rotor octocopter drone whose 35-kilogram weight at takeoff includes its onboard quantum communication system. In experiments, the researchers demonstrated that their quantum drone can operate while hovering in midair for 40 minutes at a time. It is capable of maintaining two air-to-ground links, each roughly 100 meters long, and can receive and transmit entangled photons during the daytime, on a clear night, and even on a rainy night.

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