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First quantum sensors will deliver ‘unmatched accuracy’

11 November, 2020

The German sensor-maker Sick has signed an agreement with a specialist subsidiary of Trumpf called Q.ANT to make quantum optical sensor technologies available for industrial use, potentially allowing measurements to be made with previously impossible accuracy. They say they have already successful tested the world’s first quantum optical sensor for serial production. The first commercial versions, planned for 2021, will be used to analyse substances in the air with the ability to detect particles that are about two hundred times smaller than the width of a human hair.

Until now, quantum sensors have been used mainly in research. Using laser light, they allow measurements to be made that would be impossible using conventional techniques. According to Q.ANT’s CEO, Michael Förtsch, the technology will, for example, enable ultrafast measurements of the movements and size distribution of particles. “With industrialisation of these sensors, not just us, but Germany, takes a major step towards the commercialisation of quantum technology,” he says.

“Quantum technology is the next level for sensors because it shifts hitherto firmly established technical limits,” explains Niels Syassen, Sick’s senior vice-president of r&d. “Using quantum effects, additional details can be perceived from signal noise where, up to now, no specific signals would have been measurable.”

Quantum sensors could make highly accurate measurements in a wide range of industrial applications. For example, they could be used:
• in electronics circuits, to inspect through surfaces;
• in the pharmaceutical industry, to determine the best composition of tablet powders; and
• in civil engineering, to visualise underground structures before construction begins.

Germany’s National Academy of Science and Engineering (Acatech) estimates that the global market for industrial quantum sensors could be worth around €1.1bn by 2023.

According to Sick’s chairman, Robert Bauer, by embarking on the production of quantum sensors, the company “is expanding its position as a worldwide technology leader in the sensor sector… Quantum sensors are a key technology for the future of industry.”

Functional tests have already been performed successfully on the quantum sensors

Stuttgart-based Q.ANT is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trumpf that employs around 15 people and is developing ways of making quantum technology suitable for everyday uses with the help of new photonic technologies. It will develop the core technologies and Sick will develop applications for the quantum products, as well as selling them.

“Quantum technology is an enormous opportunity for German and European industry,” says Trumpf’s chief technology officer, Peter Leibinger. “This will be the first time that the partnership between our two high-tech companies will involve a product for serial production.

“The quantum sensor enables highly accurate measurements, and will provide insights that will lead to completely new industrial applications,” he predicts.

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