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iXAtom - Inertial Guidance and Navigation using Cold Atoms
Project Description

The joint laboratory iXAtom brings together the knowledge of the French company Exail (formerly iXblue) - experts in optical gyroscopes, photonics and inertial navigation - and personnel from LP2N specialized in atom interferometry. The aim of this collaboration is to make technological advances using cold atoms to develop the next generation of inertial sensors for industrial, military and Space applications, with anticipated improvements in their performance. In the near future, we plan to develop a compact gyroscope and a three-axis accelerometer based on new techniques in atom interferometry. The ultimate goal of iXAtom is to build a new autonomous device which can compete with technologies based on global positioning systems without the drawback of external communication for recalibration.

3D Molasses
Experimental Setup
Experimental Setup

Cold-Atom Accelerometer

Our quantum accelerometer is based on cold 87-rubidium atom interferometer and velocity-sensitive Raman transitions.

A 3D magneto-optical trap is loaded from background vapor and the cloud is then cooled to a few micro-Kelvin using standard optical molasses techniques. Atoms are prepared in a single internal state and are interrogated by Raman beams in a Mach-Zehnder interferometer during free fall. The population of the internal states is probed by resonant fluorescence. The resulting interference fringes exhibit a phase shift that depends on the acceleration a of the atoms relative to the mirror, and scales as the square of the interrogation time T.

Mach-Zehnder interferometer with Raman transitions

Sensor Head

Compact and robust systems are crucial for onboard applications such as inertial navigation. We have constructed a field-deployable sensor head with a compact form factor designed for multi-axis accelerometry.


A retro-reflected beam geometry allows us to form phase gratings for counter-propagating Raman transitions along each axis. These beams are controlled in polarization with liquid crystal waveplates. Classical accelerometers, which are fixed to the rear of the mirrors, are used to correct for vibrations and to form a hybrid sensor.

Sensor Head of iXAtom

Laser Source

Our laser architecture, which utilizes telecom components for their robustness and reliability, combines an all-fibered IQ modulator operating at 1560 nm and a wavelength conversion module to 780 nm.

Using carrier-suppressed dual single-sideband (CS-DSSB) modulation, the IQ modulator generates two optical sidebands that can be independently controlled in frequency, phase and power. The full performance and utility of modern RF sources can then be transferred to the optical signal using electro-optic modulation. Compared to standard phase modulators, this architecture presents strong attenuation of lines that generates parasitic Raman transitions and avoids additional acceleration bias.

IQ MBC.jpg
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Three-Axis Rotation Platform

We use a three-axis rotation table to tilt the experiment. This table enables us to perform sequential multi-axis measurements in different orientations, test various systematic effects, and take steps toward trully mobile implementations of the prototype.

Experiment Tilted
Rotation platform

Fiber-Optics Gyroscopes

For mobile operation of the hybrid accelerometer, it is crucial to compensate for rotations of the sensor head which easily prevent any measurement to be performed. Indeed, due to linear free-fall trajectory of the atomic clouds, a rotation of the reference frame would cause a bad overlapping of the wavepackets in the interferometer.

For this purpose, we installed low-noise, high dynamic range and sensitivity Fiber-Optics Gyroscopes (FOGs) along with high bandwidth, precision and stability piezo tip-tilt platforms.

The FOGs ensure a continuous measurement of rotation rates along the 3 measurement axes which, once integrated and converted into a relevant signal, drive the tip-tilt stages.

The goal is to correct the alignment of the reference mirror in real time during the interferometer in order to prevent the contrast loss, which is the main issue with undergoing rotations while performing cold atom inertial sensing.

Additionally, rotations measurements provide knowledge of Coriolis accelerations and authorize to feedback it onto the laser phase in real time, to ultimately track the central atomic fringe.

Hybrid Accelerometer
Hybrid Accelerometer using a Kalman Filter  -  Phys. Rev. Applied 10, 034030 (2018)

The Kalman filter is a robust predictor-corrector algorithm commonly used in data fusion applications, such as inertial navigation. We have developed a Kalman filter for atom interferometry which is capable of tracking the complete interference fringe (phase, offset, contrast) as they vary in time. Additionally, we implemented a hybridization scheme between classical and quantum sensors that is capable of operating even while in motion.

Here, the correlations between classical and quantum accelerometers is used to determine and subsequently reject the bias of a mechanical accelerometer.

Hybrid accelerometer
Hybrid Allan Harsh.PNG
Hybrid Allan deviation in quiet environement

A noisy environment reminiscent of active navigation has been simulated by cycling the temperature of the mechanical accelerometer over 5 °C (equivalent to 1 mg of bias drift), modulating the laser beam intensity by 10% and, with a loudspeaker, generating 5-mg-amplitude vibration noise on the reference mirror. Under these conditions, the hybrid accelerometer reaches sub-micro-g levels after only 10 s of integration. The Kalman filter performs better than sine-fitting the interferences fringes over the entire spectral band.

​In a quiet environment, the hybrid sensor realizes a sensitivity of 3.2 micro-g per shot and a bias stability of 10 ng after 11 h of integration.

iXAtom - Team Members

Philippe Bouyer

Research Director -CNRS


Vincent Ménoret


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Baptiste Battelier

Research Engineer - CNRS


Camille Janvier

R&D Engineer - Exail


Fabien Napolitano

Director general - Exail


Vincent Jarlaud

R&D Engineer - Exail


Henri Porte

Deputy director general - Exail

Former members

  • Simon Templier, now support engineer at iXblue Photonics

  • Brynle Barrett, now assistant professor at the University of New Brunswick

  • Pierrick Cheiney, now R&D Engineer at iXblue Inertial Sensors

  • Gabriel Condon, now R&D Engineer at iXblue Quantum Sensors

  • Laure Chichet, now Senior Engineer at Teledyne e2v


Open Positions
Open Positions

We have a postdoc position available (click here) !

PhD and postdoc positions avalaible (click here) !

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