Quantum Startup Pulling in Big $ to be First to a Silicon Photonic Quantum Computer
Quantum Computing Startup Raises $215 Million for Faster Device
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+ PsiQuantum, a 5-year-old startup based in Palo Alto, Calif., says it’s well on its way to creating a commercial quantum machine, the boldest claim to date among a legion of hopefuls in the field. It has raised $215 million to build a computer with 1 million qubits, or quantum bits, within “a handful of years,” co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Jeremy O’Brien tells Bloomberg Businessweek. While the qubit figure will mean little to people outside the industry, it’s considered the breakthrough point for making a true, general-purpose quantum computer that would be broadly useful to businesses. As such, PsiQuantum’s machine would mark a major leap forward and deal a devastating blow to rival projects by the likes of Google, Honeywell, IBM, and a sea of startups and university labs. “If they are really able to pull this off, it immediately distinguishes them and puts them in a completely different field so far ahead of the competition,” says Peter Rohde, a Future Fellow at the Centre for Quantum Software & Information at the University of Technology Sydney. “This strikes me as incredibly exciting.”
The ramifications are mind-blowing. “By the time you get to 80 qubits, you are in a place where the qubits are storing more information than the total number of atoms in the entire universe,” says Samir Kumar, general manager of Microsoft Corp.’s venture capital arm, which has invested in PsiQuantum.
+ Researchers have discovered numerous techniques for creating qubits, but PsiQuantum is making them with photons, or single particles of light. These photons are sent down pathways placed on a silicon chip. Tiny, partially reflective mirrors bounce the photons into a state of entanglement where more quantum forces can be applied to bind qubits in ways that amplify their forces. Then a sensor measures the photons, and some further steps allow the PsiQuantum team to produce and read a calculation.
+ The techniques PsiQuantum is pursuing were considered virtually impossible to pull off for a time. Among other obstacles, scientists thought a machine based on photonics would have to be incredibly large. “As we began working on this architecture, it appeared that our machine would have to be the size of the Sierra Nevada mountain range,” O’Brien says. After a series of research advances, however, his team has set to work building its first computer, which it expects will be the size of an office conference room. GlobalFoundries, one of the world’s top chipmakers, has already started producing early versions of PsiQuantum’s chips using its standard manufacturing facilities. (This marks a significant contrast with other quantum experiments, which rely on exotic materials and custom manufacturing.) Now it’s up to O’Brien’s engineers to create quantum variants of the networking, software, and the other components needed to make a functioning computer. “We’re going to be building them as fast as you can,” O’Brien says.
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