Quantum Sensors in ‘23: Best 8 Use Cases & Case Studies

Quantum sensing represents one of the most promising and mature quantum technologies today. By exploiting the strange physics of atoms, photons, and qubits, quantum sensors provide unprecedented sensitivity, resolution, and data collection capabilities.

This in-depth guide explores how quantum sensing works, outlines major applications across industries, and highlights real-world examples of the technology in action. Read on to learn why quantum sensing will likely transform everything from navigation to medical diagnostics in the coming years.

A Primer on Quantum Sensing

Before diving into applications, let‘s briefly unpack what quantum sensing is and how it achieves such remarkable precision.

What is quantum sensing?

Quantum sensing refers to the use of engineered quantum systems as ultra-sensitive probes to measure various quantities in a given environment. These quantum sensors rely on quantum mechanical effects like entanglement, superposition, and quantum state manipulation to extract data.

How do quantum sensors work?

While designs vary, most quantum sensors fall into one of two main categories:

  • Atomic/ion sensors – Atomic vapors or trapped ions are laser cooled to near absolute zero temperature. Manipulating their quantum spin states with lasers and electromagnetic fields allows researchers to detect minute energy shifts when the atoms interact with external signals.
  • Photonic sensors – These systems leverage quantum optical effects in single photons. For example, passing photons through a target sample causes measurable changes in properties like polarization. Analyzing these photon state changes reveals details about the sample.

In both cases, quantum sensors can be incredibly sensitive thanks to delicate quantum states. Even minute perturbations – like a small magnetic field or chemical concentration change – get amplified into detectable macroscopic measurement signals.

Researchers are also advancing the field by developing new quantum materials like diamond nitrogen-vacancy (NV) centers. These defects in a diamond lattice have spin states hypersensitive to magnetic, electric, thermal, and optical signals. Technologies like atomic vapor cells, trapped ions, NV centers, and photonic systems now serve as the basis for most quantum sensors.

What makes quantum sensors so powerful?

Quantum sensing provides game-changing improvements in measurement sensitivity and resolution. Some key advantages include:

  • Ultra-high precision down to single photons or atomic spins
  • Ability to sense fields, chemicals, and processes non-invasively
  • Broad temperature range operation, from microkelvin to over 200°C
  • Spatial resolution down to nanometer scales
  • Rapid, real-time measurement for dynamic imaging
  • Expanding sensing modalities not possible classically

These features make quantum sensors invaluable tools across science, medical, and industrial applications. In many cases, they allow researchers to quite literally “see” the unseen.

7 Common Quantum Sensor Types

Many quantum phenomena can be harnessed for sensing. Here are 7 quantum sensor varieties finding real-world use:

Atomic clocks – Using ultra-stable atomic vibrations as an atomic-scale metronome to keep time with record precision.

Gravimeters – Sensitive gravity detectors relying on matter-wave interference of cold atom clouds.

Magnetometers – Leverage spin precession of atomic vapors or solid-state defects to map magnetic fields.

Gyroscopes – Measure rotation via matter-wave interference or entanglement-enhanced readout.

Interferometers – Use quantum interference to precisely measure displacement, vibrations, rotations, and more.

Thermometers – Map temperatures by analyzing quantum optical, spin, or orbital state shifts.

Electrometers – Detect electric fields through quantum state energy level changes.

Now let‘s explore some promising applications and real-world case studies across these quantum sensor varieties.

Quantum Sensing Use Cases and Examples

Quantum sensors are moving from lab curiosities into commercialized technologies. Here we dive into the top applications driving current research and business activity.

Biomedical Imaging and Diagnostics

Quantum sensing promises to revolutionize medical imaging, disease screening, and health monitoring.

Diamond quantum sensors enable real-time mapping of biomolecule concentrations, electromagnetic brain activity, and temperature distributions across tissues or cell samples. Startups like Qnami and QuantLR are now commercializing such quantum molecular MRI and thermal imaging tools.

In one recent study, an international team used a diamond quantum magnetometer to image neatly ordered chains of magnetite nanoparticles inside cells. This non-invasive approach achieved nanoscale resolution rivaling difficult electron microscopy methods.

The global quantum medical imaging market already reached $34 million in 2021 and could climb to nearly $215 million by 2028 according to Acumen Research and Consulting. Quantum tech will provide clinicians with unprecedented views of diagnostically relevant factors like metabolism, angiogenesis, inflammation, and neural signaling mechanics in the coming years.

Quantum magnetometers enable nanoscale magnetic imaging of cells and tissues for biomedical applications. Credit: Lin et al., Nature Communications, CC-BY 4.0

Autonomous Vehicle Navigation

Quantum inertial sensors like gyroscopes and gravimeters can pinpoint a vehicle’s position and trajectory with unmatched accuracy through almost any environment. This helps autonomous vehicles navigate when GPS connectivity is compromised.

Companies like ColdQuanta and AOSense now provide compact quantum inertial navigation systems. The extremely stable matter-wave interference in cold atom sensors enables real-time correction of positional drift.

In November 2022, Mercedes announced an investment in quantum gyroscope startup Qzabre. They plan to evaluate quantum sensors to enhance reliable navigation and safety for self-driving cars. Multiple automotive OEMs and tier 1 suppliers are also running quantum navigation sensor trials.

According to Tractica, the market for quantum accelerometers and gyroscopes in navigation applications could expand over 25X to reach $830 million by 2030. As automakers pursue fully autonomous vehicles, quantum-grade navigational data will become indispensable.

Infrastructure Monitoring

Quantum sensors like gravimeters, accelerometers, and strain gauges can provide continuous structural health monitoring for bridges, pipelines, wind turbines, rail systems, and buildings.

Startup Quantum Base is testing networks of smartphone-sized quantum gravity sensors to monitor sub-surface activity around critical infrastructure. Their MEMS atomic interferometers measure seismic vibration, soil composition changes, underground construction activity, and other geological disturbances with centimeter-level precision through earth and concrete.

This will give engineers early warnings to prevent catastrophic failures. It also opens applications in underground utility mapping, mineral exploration, earthquake detection, and homeland security.

Accounting firm Frost & Sullivan projects quantum gravimeters alone will be a $500 million market by 2030 based on adoption for resource exploration and infrastructure safety. Quantum technology lets us “see” subsurface in ways never before possible.

Chemical Detection and Analysis

Quantum molecular spectroscopy leverages unique rotational, vibrational, and electronic signatures of chemical species. Compact quantum laser spectrometers can identify trace chemicals in seconds for applications like explosives detection, industrial process monitoring, and clinical diagnosis.

In a recent example, researchers at Purdue University developed a quantum optical sensor to detect ammonia down to 300 parts per billion in just 0.01 milliseconds. This approach analyzed photonic phase changes when passing through gas samples. The sensor’s incredible speed and sensitivity could enable real-time monitoring of toxic industrial chemicals and pollutants.

Startups like ODM, Occupied Quantum, and Quantum X are commercializing chip-scale quantum spectrometers for mobile chemical analysis. Thanks to their selectivity and sensitivity, quantum sensors will likely become ubiquitous for rapid on-site testing and diagnostics across many industries.

Secure Communications

Quantum sensors help enable premier data encryption through quantum key distribution (QKD). Quantum mechanisms allow two parties to securely share a random cryptographic key over fiber networks. Ultra-sensitive single photon detectors in QKD systems guarantee security by detecting potential hacker interference.

Startup Quantum Xchange already provides commercial QKD services in the US using their Phio Trusted Node quantum encryption platform. Major communication carriers like BT, Toshiba, and Verizon are also experimenting with quantum sensors to enhance network security as data volumes explode.

Allied Market Research projects the global quantum cryptography market will grow from $387 million in 2019 to over $1.3 billion by 2027 thanks to rising cyber threats. Quantum sensors will be foundational for future data security infrastructure.

Scientific Research

Quantum sensing defines the cutting edge of multiple sciences from physics to biology. Quantum microscopes, spectrometers, imagers, and detectors unlock new domains of quantum materials research, chemical reaction dynamics, and bioscience discovery.

For example, Microsoft is prototyping a topological qubit microscope. It uses quantum readout of Majorana zero modes – exotic quasiparticle edge states with potential as qubits. Researchers will gain insight into these quantum effects to advance topological quantum computing hardware.

Startups like Zurich Instruments, Qnami, and Quside leverage quantum sensors for precision measurements and quantum control of qubits. Their tools help characterize, debug, and optimize quantum processors. Overall, quantum sensing provides scientists with unprecedented windows into atomic-scale phenomena leading to cascading breakthroughs across disciplines.

The Future of Quantum Sensing

While technical challenges remain, quantum sensing is transitioning into real-world applications thanks to rapid innovation. Continued advances will only expand the boundaries of observable phenomena in materials, medicine, computing, and other spheres.

According to Inside Quantum Technology, the global quantum sensor market is projected to exceed $815 million by 2028. Quantum navigation, medical imaging, and chemical detection are early beachhead markets.

As costs drop, precision improves, and tools simplify, quantum sensors will penetrate deeply across industries hungry for orders of magnitude more sensitive data. Quantum sensing promises to power ubiquitous “microscopes” providing microscopic, molecular, and quantum-scale views of our world. The future is unbelievably bright for this exciting technology!

Similar Posts