CEO interview: with Katrin Kobe of Bosch Quantum Sensing

CEO interview: with Katrin Kobe of Bosch Quantum Sensing

Interviews |
By Peter Clarke

Robert Bosch GmbH is creating a quantum sensing startup. eeNews Europe caught up with Dr. Katrin Kobe, the CEO of Bosch Quantum Sensing, to check up on progress.

For now, the startup is a business unit wholly-contained within the parent company. “Quantum sensing is still part of corporate research, but the commercialization of certain quantum sensing principles is in the startup,” said Kobe.

The company has appointed Frederik Schaal as CTO and Andrea Bräuning as COO, has recruited 24 staff and is aiming to get to 30 staff members. Kobe said that the positioning of BQS is now ideal to drive technologies forward. “We have the independency and agility of a startup while retaining access to the corporate research department and Bosch’s long list of customer contacts

Kobe is clear that quantum sensing – which can be based on many of a large a number of different quantum phenomena – has the scope to produce highly sensitive, compact and portable sensors. With an emphasis on ‘portable’ Kobe said these could provide game-changing solutions to various challenges.

For now, BQS is focussed on magnetic field measurement using nitrogen vacancies within diamond.

The nitrogen-vacancy center (NV center) is a type of local point defect in a diamond crystal with the property of photoluminescence. Sharp resonances in the photoluminescence are used to optically read out level shifts of magnetically sensitive electron spin states. Besides their relevance in magnetometry, individual NV centers can also be used as qubits for quantum computing.

There are alternative physical systems for creating quantum magnetometers said Kobe. These include the superconducting quantum interference devices (SQUIDs), optical traps that use laser radiation pressure to trap small particles, and vapor cells, Kobe explained. However, the NV-diamond approach is solid-state and therefore robust, theoretically requires the least space and provides the highest spatial resolution.

The NV-diamond technique is complex and requires numerous components but opens up a number of potentially lucrative measurement applications, said Kobe. These range from battery sensing – with obvious applications in automotive electronics – to muscle and heart monitoring with medical applications and on to practical brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Magnetic field sensing with nitrogen vacancies in diamond: main components and sensing principle. Source: Bosch Quantum Sensing.

It is also possible to use such magnetometers to measure the location-dependent deviations in the earth’s magnetic field creating an alternative to global-positioning by satellite. Such magnetometers would be used to map the world’s surface and then the path of any object moving across the surface could be plotted with reference to that map.

The use of a diamond-based solid-state sensor also has clear potential for combination with solid-state integrated circuit manufacture but Kobe insists that is a long-term aspiration.

For now, the business unit is focused on producing a series of minimum viable products (MVPs) or prototypes which can be used by potential customers to provide feedback to Bosch Quantum Sensing.

“A successful quantum sensing business needs a complete ecosystem, including application knowledge and production know-how. Many of the parts of the puzzle are still in development. For example, there is only one source of diamonds of sufficient quality right now. But, of course, the ecosystem shortfall applies to everyone in quantum sensing,” said Kobe.

It is almost impossible for a company to know exactly what implementation of what application will succeed and gain market traction, Kobe added. It is therefore important that companies have lots of ideas and listen to customer feedback. “We have a long list of about 200 ideas and we select from these and then follow up or halt them based on progress made and feedback received.”

The product funnel: from ideas to scaling for success. Source: Bosch Quantum Sensing.

“In the last 18 months we have gone from a laboratory setup in 2021 to a shoe-box size magnetometer version in 2022 to a milk-carton sized version in 2023,” Kobe said. “Next we will go to cigarette packet and then match-box sized,” she added.

The picture Kobe paints is one of a company in almost a pre-startup phase. “Bosch is definitely in this for the long-haul,” she said. The company had done about seven years of research into quantum sensing before forming the business unit.

Kobe agrees that Bosch Quantum Sensing will probably not bring products to market within the next year of so but should definitely be in the market within five years. But she also cautions that when a technology finds its niche and a clear market advantage things can move quickly. Until then there is a great deal technology refinement and product definition to be performed.

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