Up Start spotlight

Safety-proofing the future with quantum.

Alexandra Maierean at work. Photograph courtesy of Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC)

You’ve probably benefitted from LiDAR technology without even knowing it.

See a police officer stopping a speeding driver? They’re using LiDAR. Land surveyors for construction sites and mining, they use LiDAR too. Satellites even use LiDAR to detect incoming space debris.

LiDAR, which stands for light detection and ranging, is a sensor that uses low power infrared laser light to continuously scan an environment to create a dynamic real-time representation of surroundings.

Phantom Photonics is making a new kind of LiDAR that is powered by quantum technology, making it more powerful, precise, and invulnerable.

“This is a tool that enhances safety in the world in many ways,” said Alexandra Maierean, graduate student in the Faculty of Math. “For collision prevention in trains, planes and cars, and even on the battlefield, the better the sensors, the safer you are.”

Phantom Photonics was co-founded by Maierean, Research Associate Shihan Sajeed (PhD ’17) and Assistant Professor Thomas Jennewein, both in the Faculty of Science.

Maierean said defense stakeholders are particularly interested in their quantum-enhanced technology because the LiDAR in use today can be easily disabled and is conspicuous.

“Ours can be used in covert operations, can see farther without using more light and has anti- jamming properties,” Maierean said. “But there are so many use cases, including use in autonomous vehicles to avoid collisions and we are working to find the best product-market fit.”

This research started over four years ago and the trio has since received funding and patented the technology. They are deepening the technology’s commercial applications through Up Start, with funding and advisory from Velocity and the Waterloo Commercialization Office.

Maierean knew two things coming to Waterloo four years ago: she wanted to work in quantum physics and wanted to be a startup founder.

“Quantum physics is a nascent field and any innovations that happen now are going to be foundational,” Maierean said. “The potential for what quantum tech can be for societal change is big and I want to be a part of that.”