British quantum computing start-up Universal Quantum has won the biggest government contract for quantum computing to date. Worth €67 million, the deal will see the company create a single-chip and later multi-chip scalable quantum computer for the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Hamburg.
The two-part deal will first see the company’s German branch build a single-chip “trapped ion” quantum computer, one of the most mature solutions for using quantum states for data processing, in Hamburg. This will be made available on a private cloud platform and hosted at DLR facilities.
Ion trap systems allow universal arithmetic operations and are not dedicated to solving specific tasks, which makes them more viable as generic research machines. Qubits are also relatively stable compared to other quantum computing systems and feature high fidelity, or reliability, a key metric alongside the number of qubits.
The second part of the deal will see the company evolve into a scalable 100-qubit machine. This involves a technology developed by Universal Quantum that allows quantum processors to be assembled in a modular way, which facilitates the rapid increase in the number of qubits.
Universal Quantum has four years to reach 100 qubits, according to CEO Sebastian Weidt, and the multi-chip machine will be built around the same processor developed for the first computer, which he describes as the “most powerful chip ever developed for a system quantum”. the computer.”
Known as UQ Connect, the bonding technology developed by Universal Quantum is based on transporting ion qubits between modules with high connection fidelity.
“The beautiful thing here is that you can just put together more and more numbers of qubits, which increases the number of qubits dramatically and what we expect to see, after the few machines we’re building here, is that we can dramatically increase the number of qubits,” Weidt says. . “It’s about demonstrating that things work the way they should, and then you keep adding more modules to increase the number of qubits.”
Millions of qubits needed for quantum computing excellence
Weidt said Technical monitor that for quantum computing to truly improve and change society, machines with millions of qubits will be needed. This is the point where error rates are low and it can solve the most complex problems known today, as well as those not yet considered.
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“Error correction is the key to quantum computing and one of the deliverables we have in this contract is to deliver a machine that can correct errors,” he explains. “We want to jump to the point where we can operate in a fault-tolerant way in the long term and unlock these applications.
“There is a way to do it, but it’s still work to do and that’s what we can do with these machines, to find out what we can do before error correction comes in at larger scale.”
Error correction on these early machines can allow researchers to gradually improve quantum computers as they add more qubits, making adjustments based on how efficiently errors are corrected.
The German Quantum Computer: A Modular Approach to Scaling
The modular approach taken by Universal Quantum means that moderate cooling is required, down to around -203 degrees Celsius. In comparison, IBM houses its quantum computers in a giant fridge that reaches -248 degrees Celsius, others are even colder, approaching absolute zero.
The “working prototype” quantum computers being developed and built in Germany will be made available to researchers working at DLR and its partners to enable them to develop real-world applications that can be scaled up over time, says Universal Quantum. This will include testing new concepts for software development and developing new “in-house” skills.
“It’s not just the number of qubits, it’s the fidelity of operation that you can achieve, and if you look at the deliverables of this work, it forces us to create a state-of-the-art machine. But fidelity and qubits are not enough because you need a path to high-fidelity qubits at scale,” says Weidt. “This client wanted high fidelity, lots of qubits but on a platform that scales.”
With the modular platform designed by Weidt and his colleagues, they hope to be able to achieve exponential qubit growth. “Once we have a machine with 100 qubits, we just create another module and stick it in. We are working on exponential scaling of qubits in the future.
Germany is the second European country to invest in Universal Quantum technology. The company is also leading a UK government-backed project that also involved Rolls-Royce, with a focus on building a quantum computer capable of making fuel-efficient turbines for aviation.
Quantum computing; a technological investment in the future
Rolls-Royce is heavily invested in quantum computing, including a recent project to use software designed by Classiq Quantum to model fluid dynamics to improve airflow and fuel efficiency. The company’s head of quantum, Leigh Lapworth, said Technical monitor last month, this quantum will play an important role in its journey to net zero carbon emissions.
“The potential of quantum computers to dramatically reduce simulation run times cannot be ignored, and the work we are doing today ensures that we will have the capabilities to take advantage of the quantum advantage when it arrives,” said said Lapworth.
Contracts from countries like Germany and the UK, as well as big companies like Rolls-Royce are “moving the quantum computing needle” towards utility for society, Weidt claims. “This is a huge validation of the uniqueness and promise of our technology, and represents a major step forward in our mission to build quantum computers that will help people solve the greatest challenges facing humanity,” he adds. “We look forward to expanding our technology into new markets, building on our recent successes with partners who share our values.”
Universal Quantum co-founder Winfried Hensinger described the DLR contract as a milestone and additional recognition that will inspire the company to take the next step. “Key to our technical concept is the inherent scalability of the quantum computers we build. Our mission is to solve many of the fundamental problems of our time – that’s the next step on the way,” he says.
Funding for the DLR quantum computer project came from the German government‘s research and economics ministries, the largest investment ever by an EU government for research into this technology.