CONE - Compact control systems for quantum technologies

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: School of Physics and Astronomy


Quantum technology has the potential to have great impact upon various aspects of our daily lives. Across the UK National Quantum Technology Programme, work is underway to realise benefits to multiple sectors, for example within healthcare, transport, energy, communications and defence. One area within the programme is quantum sensing, where the UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Metrology is creating the next generation of high performance sensors and aiming to bring these into everyday applications. These sensors are based upon the use of clouds of atoms as probes where, through the use of laser cooling (winning the Nobel prize in 1997), the atoms can be slowed down sufficiently that they are almost stationary during a measurement. This provides an extremely clean and well controlled sensor, allowing exceptionally precise measurements. For example, modern cold atom based clocks are stable enough that they would not drift by one second during the age of the Universe.

The use of cold atoms also presents a challenge, as in order to create such as system requires high precision technology including stable and precise lasers and magnetic fields. This typically results in systems being large and complicated, traditionally filling an entire laboratory. Modern advances have allowed significant improvements in portability and size, but a considerable challenge still remains regarding power and driving electronics. The objective of the CONE project is to create compact and robust electronics for cold atom sensors, and trial their use in a demonstration system. The aim is to realise a 50% reduction in the overall system size, through both miniaturisation and better integration of the electronics. CONE aims to transfer knowledge to Red Wave Laboratories in order to enable them to fill an important gap within the UK quantum technology supply chain, enabling them to provide robust electronics solutions and potentially future integrated systems.

Planned Impact

The short term impact of the project will arise through Red Wave laboratories playing a key role within the UK supply chain for quantum technology, providing them with new revenue streams and generating income for the company. This will enable faster development by both academia and industry within the UK, accelerating quantum technology reaching the point where it can bring benefit to applications, and facilitating the commercialisation of quantum technology devices such as gravimeters, clocks, magnetometers and rotation sensors. This will give rise to an entirely new industry over the next 15 years, generating major up and downstream benefits:

Economic: The project will help establish the UK as a major commercial supplier of atom cooling systems and provide Europe with a supply chain outside the restrictions of ITAR. The system will also help reduce the cost for universities and businesses entering into ultracold atom research. Red Wave will also benefit from sales within wider markets. The project will also facilitate the emergence of the QT market, with one potential benefit being that it will broaden applications, and therefore market potential. For example, improving the robustness, size and cost of QT devices will enable them to enter markets such as construction, increasing their market potential by approximately £300m. Developments at this level will also improve on underground asset location. Over a longer timescale, further reducing the cost of such systems will open markets such as the gaming industry, with an estimated market for QT devices of up to £1bn.

Social: There are a number of social benefits that QT devices will enable over the next decades. For example, QT based gravity sensing will allow monitoring of the water table leading to improvements in flooding prevention. In 2012, flood damage cost the UK £4bn (BBC). Inland flooding causes an average of 133 deaths and $4bn in property losses p.a. in the U.S. (National Weather Service). Natural disasters (glacier, volcano & tsunamis) can be predicted via highly accurate seismic mapping. These areas are amongst the earliest benefits to be realised with an expected time scale of 5-10 years. Other social benefits align with archaeology and the maintenance of cultural heritage where a step-change in geophysics capabilities will revolutionise discovery processes.

The project will aid University education into laser cooling, by reducing the cost and labour in setting up experiments which could be used for undergraduate teaching. his will be of even greater benefit to Universities which lack cold atom specialists among the teaching staff. Lastly, 10-20 years from now, QT will make it into the classrooms and lecture theatres, educating future scientists and engineers. The existing demonstration system at UoB has already been used to show cold atoms to the public at several major exhibitions (such as the Royal Society Summer Exhibition, ICT2015, and the upcoming New Scientist Live exhibition), exhibited in online broadcasts to in excess of 20,000 people, exhibited at schools, and through Pint of Science. Reducing the cost and enhancing the portability of this demonstration system would enable wider use and make modern techniques in physics more accessible to the public.

Environmental: There will be ground-breaking advances in earth observation, particularly in the measurement of water distribution, where monitoring of the water table can be crucial in parts of the world where water shortages are prevalent or where unregulated private bore-holes affect the local water table. The impact of natural disasters can be mitigated through improved monitoring of flood alerts and also seismic activity for geological movement and earthquake, volcano and tsunami predictions. In 2011, the Tohoku earthquake resulted in 20,000 deaths and massive economic losses. Estimated cost for the clean-up operation in Fukushima Daiici is expected to exceed $250bn.


10 25 50
Description Current and temperature drivers for laser systems were developed and demonstrated in a cold atom system.
Exploitation Route These have been taken forward into products.
Sectors Other

Description The project transfers knowledge about cold atom systems and electronics to a company, setting it up to provide systems into the emerging quantum sensor market. Two products have been developed and presented at the last UK Quantum Technology Showcase.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Other
Impact Types Economic

Description Invited seminar and panel discussion at "Quantum Technology for Transport" held by Innovate UK 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact The seminar was aimed at describing the activities of the quantum technology hub for sensing and metrology, with a focus on for use in transport and transport related infrastructure and upon cold atom based gravity and gravity gradiometry. This included disseminating work underway in the hub and relevant projects funded by Innovate UK/EPSRC and DSTL. This helped demonstrate the potential benefits of quantum technology in these areas, and has contributed to consortium building and agenda setting for follow-on projects/calls.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018