Q-CTRL expands ‘software-defined’ quantum sensing

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Q-CTRL, a developer of quantum control infrastructure software, is expanding its capabilities to deliver quantum sensing - harnessing the fragility of quantum technology to detect tiny signals for applications in navigation, defence, Earth observation and space.

Quantum sensing applications could shed light on how water is moving underground and how ocean currents change over time; help predict and prevent drought or the impacts of mining activity on water and agriculture; and help navigate without GPS.

Q-CTRL has announced the creation of a quantum sensing division to oversee the development of a new generation of ultrasensitive ‘software-defined’ quantum sensors for measuring gravity, motion and magnetic fields. Q-CTRL enables capabilities that are otherwise impossible by combining advances in system design with new modes of operation unlocked by advanced software, AI automation, and signal processing. The new devices can have real-world impact in defense, PNT (positioning, navigation, and timing), minerals exploration, magnetic anomaly detection, persistent earth observation for climate monitoring, long-term weather forecasting and space exploration. 

Michael Biercuk, CEO and founder of Q-CTRL comments: ‘Q-CTRL’s mission is to make quantum technology useful. From day one we knew that quantum sensing provided a near-term opportunity to translate our specialisation in quantum control into value capture and new sovereign capabilities,’ 

The Q-CTRL team will showcase its capabilities publicly for the first time at the Army Quantum Technology Challenge (QTC) in Adelaide on August 10 and 11. The Army QTC unites teams of Australia’s world-leading quantum scientists and engineers to compete to show how quantum technologies can deliver Army unprecedented capabilities. In 2021, Q-CTRL was selected for and ‘won’ the competition based on its work accelerating the performance of quantum computers with its specialised infrastructure software.  

The Army QTC is part of the more than $60M of publicly disclosed quantum sensing contracts awarded to Q-CTRL’s sensing team and its partners over the last 18 months. This includes a project with Advanced Navigation on hybrid classical-quantum inertial navigation and both Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) and CRC-P contracts developing space-qualified quantum sensors. In addition, Q-CTRL is a partner in the Australian Space Park project with Fleet Space Technologies, ATSpace and Alauda Aeronautics supporting a state-of-the-art space manufacturing hub in Adelaide, South Australia, which is scheduled to open in 2025.

Q-CTRL’s dedicated sensing team has expanded to 15 members in just over a year. The Division is led by Dr Russell Anderson, who left his academic professorial position to become Q-CTRL’s Head of Quantum Sensing. The team has attracted global experts from Australia, the UK and Europe with specialised experience and world-leading track records in building ultrasensitive atomic devices, using quantum control to augment the performance of quantum sensors, and building detailed quantum digital twins for hardware to simulate end-to-end performance in real environments.

This year, the Q-CTRL sensing team will demonstrate how similar concepts can be applied to the challenge of detecting sources of electromagnetic radiation (as could be emitted by enemy communication or command-and-control system) using its own ‘software-defined’ atomic magnetometers. Q-CTRL’s unique approach to this problem delivers the insights required to transform quantum magnetometers from historically lab-based devices to useful fieldable technology.

Quantum technology exploits the physics of very small things to perform useful tasks. The technology is very sensitive to the world around it - for the most part, that’s a problem. Still, quantum sensing allows users to put this fragility to work in detecting tiny signals for aerospace, defence and civilian applications.

Q-CTRL makes a special contribution to quantum sensing by uniquely focusing on the critical challenge of stabilising the hardware when placed on moving platforms and within complex environments subject to background ‘clutter.’ The augmentation of hardware with quantum control software enables the Q-CTRL team to deploy quantum sensors in the field without performance degradation and to detect key target signatures without being overwhelmed by background signals. The underlying technology is based on Q-CTRL’s validated approaches to improve the performance of commercial quantum computers, now adapted to the unique challenges faced by quantum sensors.