ColdQuanta eyes quantum applications in electronic warfare (EW), sensors, and anti-submarine warfare (ASW)

April 14, 2021
Company to develop high-performance atomic vapors for electric field sensing and imaging, magnetic field sensing, and quantum information science (QIS).

ARLINGTON, Va. – U.S. military researchers needed enabling technologies to advance the performance of atomic vapors for electric field sensing in applications ranging from airborne electronic warfare (EW) to naval anti-submarine warfare (ASW). They found their solution from ColdQuanta Inc. in Boulder, Colo.

Officials of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Arlington, Va., announced a $3.6 million contract to ColdQuanta on Monday for the Science of Atomic Vapors for New Technologies (SAVaNT) project.

DARPA researchers are asking ColdQuanta scientists to develop high-performance atomic vapors for electric field sensing and imaging, magnetic field sensing, and quantum information science (QIS).

ColdQuanta specializes in commercializing quantum technology, and in developing technology for quantum applications, which rely on quantum physics for next-generation computing, sensors, cryptography, simulation, metrology, and imaging.

Related: Lockheed Martin to provide rapid-reconfiguring electronic warfare (EW) systems for Navy surface warships

Atoms are constants of nature; they are not subject to manufacturing variabilities, defects, impurities, or aging, which makes them suitable for precision measurements, DARPA researchers explain.

One example involves atomic clocks, which are accurate to a fraction of a second over the age of the universe. Still, such high-precision quantum devices typically require laser-cooled and trapped atoms kept at microKelvin temperatures to mitigate thermal noise effects. This means laboratory-scale expansive setups.

Yet vapor-based technologies operate at or near room temperature without complex laser cooling and trapping, but still offer the advantages of the pristine nature of atoms.

The ability to manipulate atoms with light has advanced tremendously over the past couple of decades, and includes powerful quantum methods like electromagnetically induced transparency and spin exchange relaxation-free (SERF) magnetometry.

Related: L3Harris to develop wideband software-defined radio technology that resists electronic warfare (EW) jamming

Scientists have used atomic vapors like Rydberg electrometry and SERF magnetometry for quantum information systems, and it may be possible to achieve additional significant breakthroughs in vapor-based devices.

For the DARPA SAVaNT program, ColdQuanta experts will investigate techniques to mitigate main decoherence mechanisms to realize the full potential of atomic vapor-based technologies. The program has three technical areas based on applications where atomic vapors should have the biggest benefit: Rydberg electrometry; vector magnetometry; and vapor quantum electrodynamics (VQED).

ColdQuanta will pursue new technologies for important military needs like low size, weight and power (SWaP); high-sensitivity electric and magnetic field measurements; and application that require scalable room-temperature quantum memories and interfaces. One challenge is to improve atomic coherence in vapors, and will depend on dominant decoherence mechanisms.

Related: Navy wants more AN/BLQ-10 submarine electronic warfare (EW) systems to detect hostile radar signals at sea

SAVaNT is a four-year program in two phases and three technical areas. The first phase focuses on demonstrating the physics of Rydberg electrometry; vector magnetometry; and vapor quantum electrodynamics.

The second phase will demonstrate an integrated benchtop physics package, and characterize technology tradeoffs of Rydberg electrometry; vector magnetometry; and vapor quantum electrodynamics.

Rydberg electrometry uses atoms to sense electric fields, and has notable advantages over antennas, such as extremely large operational bandwidth accessible with one device; potential for high sensitivity; and self-calibration. The focus is on improving sensitivity and instantaneous bandwidth of Rydberg electrometry.

Related: Boeing moves into production on electronic warfare (EW) avionics for Air Force F-15 jet fighter fleet

Vapor magnetometers demonstrate one of the highest scalar magnetic field sensitivities of any device, yet it requires expansive magnetic shielding and complex active cancellation of ambient magnetic fields. The focus is on achieving vapor-based vector magnetometry of quasi-DC fields ranging from 100 Hz to 1 MHz with high sensitivity and accuracy in a small package.

Vapor quantum electrodynamics, meanwhile, seeks to demonstrate a room-temperature, vapor-based quantum electrodynamics platform in the strong-coupling regime.

For more information contact ColdQuanta online at, or DARPA at

About the Author

John Keller | Editor-in-Chief

John Keller is the Editor-in-Chief, Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine--provides extensive coverage and analysis of enabling electronics and optoelectronic technologies in military, space and commercial aviation applications. John has been a member of the Military & Aerospace Electronics staff since 1989 and chief editor since 1995.

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