Quantum Computing

Quantum Sensing and Its Value: A Brief Overview

By Sam Kearney and Jake Malliaros

Who we are and why we write this work.

That Quantum Stream Creative Destruction Lab is the world’s first incubator for quantum startups, founded by Peter Wittek in 2017. Alumni included Pen And Multiverse Computing, and roughly 1/5 of all quantum startups have joined the program in some capacity. As the people at the helm of the quantum stream, we are in a unique position to observe and shape the emerging quantum landscape. When founders join the program, we work closely with them, connecting them with key stakeholders who have built successful companies before and driven scientific progress. When we get to know different groups of startups and do research to understand their technology, we see a trend. There is a lot of content about Quantum Computing, but almost nothing about Quantum Sensing. We wrote this article to help fill that gap, in the hope that more people will understand the technology and its economic and social implications.

What is the value of quantum sensing?

Quantum technology has presented future opportunities that harness the behavior of light and atoms to improve fields such as computing, communications security and sensing. Quantum sensors are very sensitive to the environment around them and can detect things that are about to happen otherwise it becomes impossible or require a large amount of resources to collect data. Applications for quantum sensors include detecting gravity, electromagnetic fields, single photons, time, temperature, and motion. Here are some examples of areas where quantum sensing has been carried out proven to bring significant improvement:

  • MRI for medical imaging
  • Spectroscopy (Useful for the characterization of materials and chemicals)
  • Enhanced GPS system
  • Inertial Navigation System
  • Gas leak detection
  • Long range target detection
  • Radar system
  • Microscopic imaging
  • Gravimeter and magnetometer (Useful for industries like mining)
  • Components for quantum computing and communications

These apps are united by a common value proposition:

Quantum Sensors can lower the cost of real-world data acquisition sensitivity, selectivity or efficiency.

While we won’t share a concrete amount of its market value, given its widespread application in high-value industries, it’s expected to be worth over a billion in the next decade.

What are the quantum sensors used for now?

While it is useful to be aware of what the future holds for quantum sensing, we believe readers are also interested in what quantum sensors are actually used today. Currently, quantum sensors have a limited range of applications, but this range is expanding rapidly as technology advances.

Atomic clocks are some of the oldest quantum sensing technologies. They have been used for decades and are a basic part of our GPS systems. Recent developments have made it possible for companies such as Microsemi to provide atomic clocks for precise time synchronization of communication and navigation systems. One of the most obvious benefits this system could possibly provide is greater throughput transfer data between locations.

Gradiometers and gravimeters it is also sufficiently mature in this space and used commercially and in the laboratory to achieve previously unattainable accuracy and reliability for underground surveying. Commercially available portable gravimeters are provided by companies such as Muquan allows higher resolution for smaller or deeper features than classic alternatives on the market. A number of studies have found that a cold atomic quantum gravimeter is 1.5-2X more effective than a classical gravimeter at detecting small buried features and can measure at deeper levels.

Magnetometers using nitrogen vacancies in diamonds are being developed by companies like Quantum SB, a CDL alumni company from our 2019-2020 batch. Magnetometers have a wide range of applications including prospecting for mining operations and navigation. A recent study published in Natural found that when used in gradiometrics, diamond-based quantum magnetometers provide advantages such as an order of magnitude better sensitivity and sharper, more localized images.

Quantum sensors can also detect velocity, reflectivity and chemical composition at long distances which have many uses. For example, Quantum Lidars are available from companies like SigmaSpace, Quantum Light MetrologyAnd Quantum IDwhich is useful for terrestrial mapping problems and gas leak detection.

The examples listed above are not exhaustive. Many other applications are being pursued by non-CDL alumni, and several more are being built by our graduates such as Qubic’s Quantum Radar, or owned by Miraex quantum sensors to detect vibrations in harsh environments.

What are the challenges of commercializing quantum sensors?

Just because quantum sensing will deliver value faster than quantum computing doesn’t mean sensing companies don’t have their own challenge. They faced a number of technical challenges such as reducing errors and downsizing their systems. The extreme sensitivity of quantum sensors is both a source of their value and a practical challenge for commercialization. For example, they can be so sensitive to their surroundings that it can be difficult to filter signals from unwanted noise. Because of this sensitivity, even sensor measurement readings can distort the results.

Company can reduce the problem like these in various ways such as using special hardware to limit noise, averaging their measurements, and using entangled sensors.

Technologies in their infancy often face challenges around miniaturization. The first general-purpose electronic digital computer, the ENIAC, is about 1800 feet tall and weighs over 27 tons. Likewise, companies looking to implement quantum sensors are also struggling with space constraints. This is especially true for companies trying to deploy quantum sensors in areas such as outer space, where minimizing the size and weight of loads is critical. An example of the founder of quantum sensing claims that normally to have this level of sensitivity you would need a truck-sized system for cooling, a laser system, and noise protection. However, we have seen a few quantum startups focused on reducing the size and complexity of these sensors (such as CDL alumni Aquark Technology) to accelerate market adoption of this technology.

What We’ve Seen from Our Time at CDL:

From our time at CDL, we’ve noticed how quantum sensing startups face a similar challenge to their classical sensing counterparts: value capture. Building great sensors is challenging and important, but sensors must be integrated into larger systems. For example, in the case of autonomous vehicles, they must be integrated with all other critical hardware and software involved. Integration requires software that often has to be customized for use cases, making scaling difficult. This has led some sensing companies to become pigeonholed into becoming component suppliers. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can stop a company from being massively scalable. Companies looking to appeal more to investors and capture more value often want to build accompanying software or make their sensors part of a larger product or system.

The relative maturity of the technology compared to quantum computing has attracted such strong incumbents Bosch to hire a quantum sensing team. These companies have significant relationships and resources at their disposal. New entrants to the market need to have good reasons why they can outperform these incumbents while overcoming the challenges outlined above.

One trend we’ve noticed is that companies targeting areas other than defense often struggle to gain enough traction to stay within startup budgets. These companies often start out targeting other industries such as energy or healthcare or mining but find that non-dilutive government funding is easier to come by in the Defense industry. Given the diversity of applications that quantum sensors can provide, we hope and anticipate the desire to pilot quantum sensors grow in other industries.

What does the future look like with quantum sensing?

So what are some examples of what the world might look like with advanced quantum sensing integrated into a full system? We intend this section to be an exercise in imagining how the world is Possible see given the optimistic development of sensing technology. This No firm predictions of how the world will look with quantum sensors but intended to make their potential impact more real to readers.

Hospital… Imagine walking into a room and having multiple imaging processes done simultaneously in minutes, not hours. A quantum sensor system can provide equivalent data MRI, CAT scan, or X-Ray and can be used to detect things that would normally require a blood scan. It will be easier to access this data with less time and cost, allowing hospitals to serve more patients with more accurate results. In relation to this vision, companies like Chipiron already exploring the miniaturization of MRI.

A power plant…Imagine a nuclear or gas plant that can pinpoint previously untraceable leaks with just a few sensors throughout the plant. Access to this new data in combination with AI systems enables characterization of molecular composition, precise location and estimation of losses. Manufacturers can now detect leaks and flag maintenance earlier than ever, reducing not only costs but also the risk of environmental damage. Take a look at the company QLM for how this might start to look.

A city…Imagine driving through a city and your semi-autonomous car is equipped with a quantum sensor. Traditional LiDAR systems have been limited in areas such as bad weather, can be faked, and detecting hidden obstacles. As much as LiDAR it may be able to address this challenge by feeding highly accurate imaging data at greater distances to autonomous driving systems. This could enable the implementation of safe autonomous driving at scale, faster while requiring less space, weight and power consumption.


We’re excited about the increased interest in quantum information technology that we’ve seen in recent years. There are many more applications of quantum sensing that we can’t cover here, so we want this article to serve as a starting point for readers to continue exploring its potential. Despite the challenges listed above, we expect quantum sensing to have a real impact on today’s industry over the next few years.

Source link

Related Articles

Back to top button