Startups developing quantum computers

Today is the era of noisy intermediate-scale quantum computers (Nisq). These can solve difficult problems, but they are said to be “noisy”, which means that many physical qubits are needed for each logical qubit that can be applied to problem solving. It is therefore difficult for the industry to demonstrate a real practical advantage of quantum computers over conventional high-performance computing (HPC) architectures.

Algorithmiq recently received $4 million in seed funding to enable it to deliver what it claims are “truly noise-tolerant quantum algorithms.” The company is targeting a specific application area – drug discovery – and hopes to work with large pharmaceutical companies to develop precise molecular simulations at the quantum level.

Algorithmiq claims to have a unique strategy of using off-the-shelf computers to “de-noise” quantum computers. The algorithms she develops offer researchers the ability to increase the speed of chemical simulations on quantum computers by 100 times compared to current industry benchmarks.

Sabrina Maniscalco, co-founder and CEO of Algorithmiq and professor of quantum information, computing and logic at the University of Helsinki, has been studying noise in quantum computers for 20 years. “My main area of ​​research is noise extraction,” she said. “Quantum information is very fragile.”

In Maniscalco’s experience, total tolerance requires technological advances in manufacturing and may even require the discovery of fundamental principles because the science does not yet exist. But she said: “We can work with noisy devices. We can do a lot of things, but you have to get your hands dirty.

Algorithmiq’s approach is to change mentalities. Rather than waiting for the emergence of fault-tolerant universal quantum computing, Maniscalco said, “We are looking for the kinds of algorithms that we can develop with noise. [quantum] devices.”

Make the most of noise

To work with noisy devices, algorithms must consider quantum physics in order to model and understand what is happening in the quantum computing system.

Algorithmiq’s target application area is drug discovery. Quantum computing offers researchers the ability to accurately simulate molecules at the quantum level, which is not possible in classical computing because each qubit can map to an electron.

According to a quantum computing background paper from Microsoft, if an electron had 40 possible states, modeling each “state” would have 240 configurations, because each position may or may not have an electron. To store the quantum state of electrons in conventional computer memory would require more than 130 GB of memory. As the number of states increases, the memory required increases exponentially.

This is one of the limitations of using a classical computational architecture for quantum chemical simulations. According to American scientistquantum computers are now at the point where they can begin to model the energetics and properties of small molecules, such as lithium hydride.

Ambient temperature

In November 2021, a consortium led by Universal Quantum, a University of Sussex spin-off, received a £7.5 million grant from Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to build a scalable quantum computer. His goal is to reach a system of one million qubits.

Many current quantum computing systems rely on supercooling to a few degrees above absolute zero to obtain superconducting qubits. Cooling components to just above absolute zero is necessary to build the superconducting qubits that are encoded in a circuit. The circuit exhibits quantum effects only when supercooled, otherwise it behaves like a normal electrical circuit.

Significantly, Universal’s quantum technology, based on the principle of a trapped ion quantum computer, can operate at much more normal temperatures. Explaining why his technology doesn’t require supercooling, co-founder and chief scientist Winfried Hensinger said, “It’s the nature of the hardware platform. The qubit is the atom that exhibits quantum effects. The ions levitate above the surface of the chip, so there is no need to cool the chip to create a better qubit.

Just as a microprocessor can run at 150W and operate at room temperature, the quantum computer built by Universal Quantum should require no more than is needed in an existing server room for cooling.

The design is also more resilient to noise, which introduces errors into quantum computing. Hensinger added: “In a superconducting qubit, the circuitry is on-chip, so it’s much harder to isolate from the environment and is therefore subject to a lot more noise. The ion is naturally much better isolated from the environment because it is hovering just above a chip.

The main reason Hensinger and the Universal Quantum team believe they are in a better position to drive the scalability of quantum computers is the cooling power of a refrigerator. According to Hensinger, the cooling needed for superconducting qubits is very difficult to scale to a large number of qubits.

Industrial scale

Another startup, Quantum Motion, a University College London (UCL) spin-out, is exploring a way to industrialize quantum computing. The company is leading a three-year project, Altnaharra, funded by the UK’s National Quantum Technologies Program (NQTP) Research and Innovation, which combines expertise in qubits based on superconducting circuits, trapped ions and silicon spins .

The company claims to develop fault-tolerant quantum computing architectures. John Morton, co-founder of Quantum Motion and professor of nanoelectronics at UCL, said: “To build a universal quantum computer, you need to scale to millions of qubits.”

But since companies like IBM currently only use 127-qubit systems, the idea of ​​universal quantum computing comprising millions of physical qubits, built using existing processes, is considered by some to be a pipe dream. Instead, Morton said, “We’re looking at taking a silicon chip and having it exhibit quantum properties.”

Last April, Quantum Motion and researchers at UCL were able to isolate and measure the quantum state of a single electron (the qubit) in a silicon transistor fabricated using CMOS (Complementary Semiconductor Metal Oxide) technology similar to that used to manufacture computer processor chips.

Rather than being in a high-tech campus or university, the company has just opened its new lab off Caledonian Road in London, surrounded by a housing estate, community park and gym . But in this lab, he is able to lower the temperature of the components to a shade above absolute zero.

James Palles-Dimmock, COO of Quantum Motion, said, “We’re working with cooler-than-deep-space technology and pushing the boundaries of our knowledge to turn quantum theory into reality. Our approach is to take the building blocks of computing – the silicon chip – and demonstrate that it is the most stable, reliable and scalable way to mass-produce quantum silicon chips.

The discussion Computer Weekly had with these startups shows just how much effort is being made to give quantum computing a clear advantage over HPC. What is clear from these conversations is that these companies are all very different. Unlike classical computing, which chose the stored program architecture described by mathematician John von Neumann in the 1940s, there is unlikely to be a de facto standard architecture for quantum computing.