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Saudi startup’s infrared tech has ‘game-changing’ potential

Quantum dot technology could be transformative for drones, robots and autonomous vehicles Pexels/Harry Cunningham
Quantum dot technology could be transformative for drones, robots and autonomous vehicles
  • Quantum Solutions cuts cost of sensors
  • Ultra-sensitive quantum dots
  • Can transform autonomous tech

A Saudi Arabian startup’s pioneering research will slash the cost of infrared sensors, enabling them to be used in a myriad of day-to-day applications and accelerating the development of fully autonomous vehicles, its founder told AGBI.

Osman Bakr, founder and chairman of Quantum Solutions, is also head of the functional nanomaterials laboratory at Kaust (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) near Jeddah.

A Saudi national, Bakr grew up in the kingdom before earning a bachelor’s degree in materials science and engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a PhD in applied physics from Harvard University.

He returned to Saudi to join Kaust in 2009 and advance his research into quantum dots, which are semiconductor nanomaterials with ground-breaking properties related to light.

Currently, the most common use for quantum dots is in electronic displays, enabling brighter, more realistic colours – in other words, higher definition – but Bakr believes there are other applications for the technology that could be transformational for individuals and various industries.

Within the electromagnetic spectrum, which ranges from long-wavelength (low energy) radio waves to ultra-high energy X-rays and gamma rays, visible light represents only a small part.

Conventional silicon sensors can mostly just detect light visible to humans, whereas quantum dots can be designed to be sensitive to a much broader part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

“Quantum dots are a game-changing semiconductor material because they can be solution-processed and monolithically integrated with silicon readout circuits at scale and low cost,” said Bakr.

Face, Happy, Head
Osman Bakr, Osman Bakr says the technology could be transformational for individuals and industry
Osman Bakr says the technology could be transformational for individuals and industry

His company, Quantum Solutions, is a Kaust-incubated startup with facilities on campus and in Cambridge and Oxford in the UK.

Initially, it is prioritising making quantum-dot-based infrared sensors that are sensitive to short-wavelength infrared light. Currently, conventional infrared sensors are made from indium gallium arsenide, or InGaAs, and cost more than $5,000 each.

Quantum Solutions’ quantum dot infrared image sensors provide the same quality but at 5 to 10 times less cost, said Bakr, even at low production volumes.

“Initially we’re targeting drones, robots, and autonomous machines because these devices require infrared technology to understand space around them,” said Bakr.

At scale, his company’s production costs could fall to as low as 1-2 percent of current InGaAs sensor prices. Also, quantum dot sensors offer performance enhancements, such as triple-strength resolution and tunability across a wide spectral range, said Bakr.

Revolutionary potential

“Traditional short-wave infrared sensors have been incredibly expensive, limiting their use to specialised applications like defence and satellite technology,” said Bakr.

“This could revolutionise various aspects of our lives, from health monitoring in smart watches to eye-safe eye-tracking in augmented reality glasses. In cars, these sensors could enhance night-time driving and visibility in adverse weather conditions. The potential benefits of this technology are immense [and are] poised to positively impact the quality of our everyday lives.”

Bakr believes his sensors will become integral to enabling fully autonomous vehicles and enhancing robotics. Other uses include environmental monitoring, moisture detection and night vision.

“There’s an explosion in the adoption of smart devices, but they’re using sensors about as good as the human eye. We want to give these machines superhuman capabilities and to do that they need to perceive outside the visible spectrum,” said Bakr.

“Quantum-dot-based infrared sensors not only enable gas detection and mineral mapping but also open up a world of possibilities in health monitoring. Infrared light can penetrate the skin to provide valuable insights into our well-being, safely and non-invasively.”

Light, Lighting, Computer A Quantum Solutions sensor: the company says it is 'enabling superhuman vision'Quantum Solutions
A Quantum Solutions sensor: the company says it is ‘enabling superhuman vision’

Quantum Solutions launched its infrared photodetectors at the end of 2023 and will launch its image sensors in early 2024, said Bakr. The company’s Cambridge and Oxford facilities are developing and manufacturing this hardware.

Quantum Solutions is conducting its first equity fundraising round and aims to obtain $4 million from investors, said Bakr. This will likely be completed in three months.

Although the company’s current focus is on infrared, its longer-term plan is to develop X-ray-based applications too. These will largely be for healthcare.

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