This page belongs to: Action Plan for Critical Technologies

Quantum sensors

Devices that depend directly on quantum mechanical properties and effects for high precision and high sensitivity measurements. Applications for quantum sensors include enhanced imaging, GPS-free navigation and remote sensing.

Key sectors

  • Agriculture
  • Defence & Defence Industry
  • Energy & Environment
  • Health
  • Construction
  • Manufacturing
  • Transport & Logistics
  • Mining & Resources

Estimated impact on national interest

Economic Prosperity - Med
National Security - High

Key Australian Government actions


  • Quantum Technology Roadmap
  • Quantum-Assured Position, Navigation and Timing (PNT) DSTG star-shot
  • Silicon Quantum Computing
  • Next Generation Technologies Fund
  • Digital Economy and Technology Policy


  • Defence and Strategic Goods List 2021

Example outcomes

  • Enhanced capabilities for the early detection of diseased tissue states
  • Detect small signals of interest including magnetic anomalies and trace chemicals
  • Easier discovery of valuable ore deposits and efficient groundwater monitoring
  • Precision positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) in Global Positioning System (GPS) - denied environments such as underground or underwater
  • Early-warning systems for volcanic eruptions and earthquakes
  • Mapping of the magnetic field inside the brain, which may be used to identify and treat brain injuries or neurological conditions
  • Improved remote sensing capabilities, enabling better detection of submarines and stealth aircraft
  • Use of quantum sensors for analysis of organic structures (e.g. medical diagnosis)

Underpinning science

ANZ Standard Research Classification Category

  • Applied Mathematics
  • Mathematical Physics
  • Numerical and Computational Mathematics
  • Software Engineering
  • Data Management and Data Science
  • Theory of Computation
  • Electronics, Sensors and Digital Hardware
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Optical Physics
  • Quantum Physics
  • Macromolecular and Materials Chemistry
  • Communications Engineering
  • Electronics, Sensors and Digital Hardware

Example applications

Readiness Level – Now

  • Magnetic geophysical surveying for mining, archaeology and unexploded ordnance detection
  • Radiofrequency testing equipment for measuring performance of wireless communication devices
  • Communications, radar and GPS synchronisation using atomic clocks

Readiness Level – 2–5 years

  • Compact medical diagnostic devices
  • Magnetic anomaly detection of submarines, mines and underground infrastructure
  • GPS-free navigation based on magnetic and gravitational anomaly maps
  • Improved radar and communications using atomic antennas
  • Covert signals intelligence collection using atomic antennas

Readiness Level – Beyond 5 years

  • Quantum lidar for autonomous vehicles and surveying
  • Quantum radar for advanced military radar systems
  • Sensing and use of THz signals for next generation communications

Australia's place in the world

The United States has the highest research impact for quantum sensors, and has the top 2 institutes internationally. Australia is ranked 16th for research impact, and the Australian National University is ranked 45th internationally. Australia is ranked 3rd for venture capital (VC) investment for quantum sensors, behind the United States and the United Kingdom. China has the highest number of patents in this area, ahead of the United States (2nd) and Japan (3rd).

Behind the United States and China, Japan also has considerable strengths in this area and is ranked 3rd for research impact and patents, and 4th for VC investment. There are 3 Japanese institutes in the international top 10 institutions.

Opportunities and risks

Quantum sensors present a wealth of opportunities for Australia. By exploiting the inherent sensitivity of quantum states, quantum sensors can detect changes in the physical environment faster, more precisely and/or with higher sensitivity. The CSIRO report, Growing Australia’s Quantum Technology Industry, forecast that Australia could generate $940 million in revenue if it could capture 5% of the estimated addressable market for quantum-enhanced sensors in 2040. An Australian quantum sensing industry could create 2,900 new jobs under this scenario and contribute to indirect job creation via flow-on demand and productivity gains.

Civil engineers and geologists can use quantum sensor-based gravity gradiometers to detect buried or hidden structures or cavities many times faster than using ground penetrating radar. By using atomic properties as the reference, quantum sensors can remain accurate indefinitely without costly and/or time consuming recalibration. This reliability can enable high-precision navigation in environments where external reference signals like GPS are too weak or otherwise unreliable. Quantum sensors can also be used to detect structures and changes inside the human body, much like an MRI machine but with a wider range of applications.

Quantum sensors also pose risks to Australia, particularly our military platforms. For example, adversaries could potentially use quantum sensors to more readily and more accurately detect military aircraft and marine vessels. Australia needs to understand the capabilities and limitations of quantum sensors, to enable adjustment of strategies and tactics, or to potentially devise new countermeasures and protections for our armed forces.

Research impact (RI)

The United States has the highest research impact, with Australia ranked 16th. Total volume of published research has been increasing at around 4% p.a. over the 5 year period 2016–2020, with 39% of research involving international collaboration.

  1. USA - 15802
  2. China - 7989
  3. Japan - 6023
  4. Germany - 5656
  5. UK - 2910
  1. Australia - 836

The research impact provides an indication of the productivity of a country or institution. Here, productivity was assumed to be represented by the volume of publications (i.e. scholarly output) as an indicator of the resources & facilities, and the level of interest in the publications as an indicator of quality.

VC investment

Australia is ranked 3rd for VC investment for quantum sensors, which is led by the United States. Investment in this area has been growing at 50% per annum since 2016.

  1. USA
  2. UK
  3. Australia
  4. Japan
  5. Switzerland

Data from Crunchbase. The Crunchbase database provides a partial view of the global VC landscape. However the quantity, quality and richness of the data are considered to be statistically significant, and indicative of global trends.

Patents - international

The highest number of patents in this technology were filed by applicants or inventors from China, with Australia ranked 16th. Overall, patent applications have been increasing by around 1% p.a. from 2015 to 2019.

  1. China - 1340
  2. USA - 932
  3. Japan - 272
  4. Germany - 176
  5. Taiwan - 113
  1. Australia - 21

Research institutions - international

The top 2 ranked institutes for research impact are from the United States, and Japan has 3 institutes in the top 10 international institutions.

Rank Top International Institution Research Impact
1 Massachusetts Institute of Technology | United States 4178
2 Harvard University | United States 3305
3 National Institute for Materials Science Tsukuba | Japan 2570
4 Chinese Academy of Sciences | China 2382
5 French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) | France 1604
6 Delft University of Technology | Netherlands 1501
7 The University of Tokyo | Japan 1491
8 University of Copenhagen | Denmark 1388
9 RIKEN | Japan 1319
10 National Research Council of Italy | Italy 1250

Research institutions - Australia

Rank Top Australian Institution Research Impact
1 Australian National University 490
2 University of Melbourne 312
3 University of Technology Sydney 297
4 Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University 250
5 University of New South Wales 244
6 Griffith University 217
7 CSIRO 117
8 Macquarie University 111
9 University of Western Australia 103
10 University of Sydney 100

Patents - Australia

Top 5 Australian Patent Applicants Patent Families
University of Melbourne 4
Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology 2
Australian National University 1

Patents filed by Australian businesses, 2015–2019.