When quantum means business: An interview with Muquans, a quantum innovator

Today, quantum technologies are attracting a lot of attention from investors and industry for future computers and ultra-secure communication. But besides these applications, quantum technology is already used for high-end gravimeters in Earth monitoring, underground exploration, civil engineering, defense and timing in Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) and radio-navigation. Yole Développement estimates that this market today exceeds $200 million and will grow to $600 million in 2030, in its latest report Quantum Technologies 2021.

2020-2030 market forecast for quantum technologies - Yole Développement

Quantum technologies are complex though and making money with them is not easy. Here, we present an interview with French company Muquans, which was acquired by iXblue in May 2021 and has successfully developed portable quantum gravimeters and frequency solutions.

Eric Mounier (EM): Can you please introduce Muquans’ background, technologies and applications?

Bruno Desruelle (BD): Muquans is a pioneer company in the field of quantum technologies. It was created in 2011 as a spin-off of two academic laboratories specialized in quantum precision measurements, LNE-SYRTE in Paris and LP2N in Bordeaux. Thanks to a tight collaboration with our academic partners, we have been able to develop unique scientific and technological know-how. That allowed us to develop a broad product portfolio addressing different fields of applications. We now offer a complete set of quantum gravity sensors dedicated to applications in geophysics, high performance time and frequency solutions including an ultra-stable atomic clock and frequency transfer links. We also offer various cutting-edge photonic solutions optimized for quantum applications and high-resolution spectroscopy.

EM: Muquans is one of the very few companies being successful turning quantum technologies into commercial products. Can you comment on the reason why?

BD: Thank you! I’d say that our success can be explained by a combination of factors. First of all, the high level of expertise of our academic partners has allowed us to build our know-how on very solid foundations. Then we were lucky enough to find talented staff motivated by our project, which enabled us to put together a very efficient team gathering high-level skills. They have been able to very quickly acquire an understanding of the key scientific and technological concepts on which our systems are based and thus to come up with relevant solutions in order to develop industrial versions of the academic experiments. My contribution to this success probably came from a background perfectly suited to the development of a company like Muquans. I think my PhD in Quantum Physics with Alain Aspect, my early professional experiences in several high-tech photonic companies, and the position I held at the DGA, the procurement agency of the French ministry of defense, have helped me to develop a very broad range of professional skills in various domains. This experience has been helpful to define a winning strategy.

EM: Muquans was acquired by iXblue in 2021. What will be the mutual benefits and synergies of this fusion?

BD: Muquans and iXblue are very complementary and we have big expectations for the future. In order to develop its activities, Muquans was looking for an industrial partner that could help the company improve its industrial processes and bring a well-established international commercial network and deeper technological expertise. This is exactly what iXblue offered to us. iXblue is today an industrial group that has acquired unique expertise in various technological domains. It is an industrial leader in its fields of excellence and has developed a strong commercial presence worldwide. In particular, its portfolio includes unique capabilities in photonics with top level modulation solutions, specialty optical fibers or micro-optical benches, which will add a lot of value in Muquans systems. Amongst other benefits, I think the expertise of iXblue in inertial navigation will be extremely helpful to develop airborne and seaborne versions of our gravity sensors that will address new applications.

EM: Europe seems to have a good positioning in quantum technology thanks to a strong R&D basis, high performing computer players such as Atos and innovative companies like Muquans, and Pasqal. How do you see the future of quantum technology in Europe facing very strong competition from USA and China?

BD: It is true that we are facing very strong competition from other international leaders but I think Europe has an important role to play in the race for the development of a leading quantum industry. The first reason is that we have plenty of talent. I see everywhere around me young scientists full of ideas and energy that are extremely motivated by the idea of creating a start-up and developing a business around quantum technologies. We also have very strong education and research facilities that offer a unique environment to develop these talents. We are probably a bit behind the USA and China in terms of funding. But I think there are still many opportunities thanks to very active VCs like Quantonation, and the public quantum initiatives either at the national level or with the quantum flagship launched by the EU. I am thus convinced that a promising European quantum company will find the money it needs to fund its development.

EM: What are the current applications and markets driving Muquans’ development?

BD: Early on, we made the decision to diversify our products and to address different markets where our technologies could offer an added value. We are now involved in three main businesses.
Geophysics is where our quantum gravity sensors offer a unique capability for applications in hydrology, volcano monitoring and geodesy. We are preparing new versions of this instrument that will find new applications in the defense and civil engineering sectors.
The time and frequency market is where we can offer unique solutions optimized for the segment dedicated to ultra-high performance metrological solutions. We target applications like definition of national timescales, GNSS, telecommunications or comparison of optical clocks.
In photonics we have developed a unique industrial capability to make solutions offering extreme performance and advanced functionalities, perfectly suited to very demanding applications such as quantum.

EM: Quantum technologies are today attracting a lot of funding, especially for long-term possible future quantum computers. What is Muquans’ position on quantum computing? Is it a possible future application?

BD: Although the decision was made not to initiate the development of a quantum computer, Muquans is very interested in quantum computing and we think this area is likely to experience very significant growth in the coming years. We believe our photonic technologies have the potential to play a key role in this field and we have established a strong partnership with Pasqal. We strongly believe in their success and support them with the development of laser systems tailored to the platforms they are developing.

EM: As a last question, let’s dream: what could make the daily use of quantum technologies possible? What would be the ideal use-case and the technical barriers to overcome?

BD: This is a very good and very difficult question to answer. Based on what we know today, I’d say that quantum solutions are still extremely complex systems, with powerful capabilities on very specific applications. At this stage, they remain confined to specific professional applications. I am not sure that this can change in the future, but many opportunities remain open and we can hope that the huge international R&D effort will give rise to a couple of brilliant ideas that might change the game.

About the authors

Bruno Desruelles - Muquans - iXblue - Yole Développement

Bruno Desruelle used to be the Chief Executive Officer of Muquans, and now acts as Managing Director of the quantum sensors division in iXblue. He received his doctorate from University Paris XI for his work on Bose-Einstein Condensation in Alain Aspect’s group. He acquired solid industrial experience in the field of high technology photonics while working for Corning Incorporated in the field of DWDM optical communication systems, then for THALES Optronique where he managed the development of several complex optronics systems. He was appointed Head of the photonics domain at the office for advanced research and innovation of the French Ministry of Defence in 2005, as well as government representative for the two main competitiveness clusters in photonics. He left this position in 2010 to prepare the creation of Muquans and was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the company. He has led the development of the company from its creation in 2011 to a profitable company gathering 30 employees and generating 4 M€ of revenues in 2020.

Eric Mounier - Yole Développement

With more than 25+ years’ experience within the semiconductor industry, Eric Mounier PhD. is Director of Market Research at Yole Développement (Yole). Eric provides daily in-depth insights into current and future semiconductor trends, markets and innovative technologies (such as Quantum computing, Si photonics, new sensing technologies, new type of sensors …). Based on relevant methodological expertise and a strong technological background, he works closely with all the teams at Yole to point out disruptive technologies and analyze and present business opportunities through technology & market reports and custom consulting projects. With numerous internal workshops on technologies, methodologies, best practices and more, Yole’s Fellow Analyst ensures the training of Yole’s Technology & Market Analysts.
In this position, Eric Mounier has spoken in numerous international conferences, presenting his vision of the semiconductor industry and latest technical innovations. He has also authored or co-authored more than 100 papers as well as more than 120 Yole’s technology & market reports.
Previously, Eric held R&D and Marketing positions at CEA Leti (France).
Eric Mounier has a PhD. in Semiconductor Engineering and a degree in Optoelectronics from the National Polytechnic Institute of Grenoble (France).

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Quantum technologies 2021 - Yole Développement

Quantum Technologies 2021
Industrial interest in quantum technologies continues, leading to major investments and a large market in 5-10 years.