Atom-based Over-The-Air (OTA) RF/mmWave Measurement

OTA characterization is vital for antenna-based technologies, like 5G-New Radio (NR) in the so-called Frequency Range 2 (FR2) bands. Working above 20 GHz is one of the most important areas in RF engineering today. However, it poses a major technical challenge due to the limitations of metal antennas.

As a replacement for current antennas, which must be handled routinely and with care, traceably calibrated to ensure accuracy, we have developed an absolute Rydberg atom-based RF test solution.

The dielectric sensor heads are produced in a variety of geometries and can be operated at very close range to devices under test. Coupled to fibre, their control and readout laser system is remotely operated.

A commercial-ready prototype is being transitioned to Ideas Lab’s first startup, WaveRyde Instruments, for development into its first product.

An antenna field radiates from a device under test in an anechoic chamber. A fiber-coupled vapour cell connects to 2 lasers, a processing unit, and a monitor.


  • The system is self-calibrated, enabling repeatable, accurate measurements during the design and testing of RF devices, reducing the time it takes to make complicated measurements
  • A single system can operate over a broad frequency range (MHz, GHz, THz range) – simplifying a test environment for users and reducing their costs
  • Flexibility – vapour cell sensors can be made in practically any size and geometry – enabling use across a diverse range of use cases
  • Unlike metal antennas, vapour cells are dielectric, meaning they are transparent to RF fields
  • Sub-wavelength accuracy is possible

Anticipated uses:

  • RF test and measurement
  • Primary standard for RF electromagnetic waves

Rydberg Atom-Based Receivers

Modern communications and radar receivers in the MHz to GHz regime require significant amplification and filtering.

Rydberg atoms can eliminate these challenges, but basic vapour cells are insufficiently sensitive to serve as an RF receiver. To solve this, we constructed novel photonic crystals (PC) that amplify the RF fields with which the atoms interact. PC vapour cells eliminate the need for amplification, while retaining the dielectric advantages of vapour cells. Multiple receivers operating at different frequencies can be co-located.

Research and development are currently underway in Ideas Lab facilities to construct prototype systems.

An antenna tower radiates RF, which bounces off a plane and reaches an antenna dish. Its vapour cell connects to a monitor, which displays a readout.
Two lasers and an RF field travel through a photonic crystal vapour cell. One laser reaches a photodetector.


  • Size, weight, and power – the receiver provides built in amplification, reducing the complexity and cost of the complete radar systems
  • Dielectric construction (no metal) reduces interference and is invisible to radar detection
  • Sensitivity-high polarization sensitivity leads to better shape and composition detection of targets
  • Networked deployment – the system has been designed to support multiple receivers working together, providing a multi-static radar configuration enhancing target detection and deployment across high impact use cases

Anticipated uses:

  • Radar
  • Communications