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A quantum sensor under development can detect the complete radio spectrum — and pick up Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AM and FM radio and other communication signals on frequencies up to 20GHz. The device could pave the way for next-level capabilities to support electronic warfare of the future.

“This research still has many basic and foundational scientific questions to address before it’s ready to deploy to the field,” Paul Kunz, a researcher at the US Army Research Laboratory told nextgov.com. 

Quantum science and technologies hinge on happenings at the atomic scale. Kunz noted that  he and the team had been investigating Rydberg atoms “as qubits for building a quantum repeater” that could potentially distribute entanglement over long distances. Quantum entanglement is considered fundamental for enabling the power of quantum computing and some quantum sensing. 

“In the course of this research, we realized that Rydberg atoms could be a fascinating new form of electric field sensor with radically different properties than traditional field sensors,” Kunz explained.

The device they designed had two main components, according to the researcher: lasers, and a small glass cell containing atoms. 

Prior demonstrations of Rydberg atomic sensors centered on small, specific regions of the radio frequency spectrum, but the Army’s new tool can be applied over a wide frequency range for the first time.

Applications could include military-focused innovations in communications and sensing, spectrum awareness and more. 

According to the Army’s release, “this is a really important step toward proving that quantum sensors can provide a new, and dominant, set of capabilities for our soldiers, who are operating in an increasingly complex electromagnetic battlespace.” 

The work meshes well with the military branch’s vision for high-tech modernization, but both collaborators emphasized that there’s more to be done before it’ll be fieldable.