Introduction to the Quantum Landscape

Investment in quantum technologies is rapidly accelerating at both a national and company level. New partnering opportunities are emerging globally.

A wide variety of academic research, investment, patent, software and pilot deployment activities are underway across the Quantum Technology sector (18)(17)(13)(9)(4).

National Programmes

The US has perhaps the most visible quantum technologies presence due to high profile investments of US based Technology giants such as Google, IBM, Intel and Microsoft. The wide field of high quality universities in the US means that the full range of quantum technologies are strongly addressed. Leading institutes in the field include the University of Maryland (Joint Quantum Institute), Harvard, UCSB, MIT, Stanford and Berkeley. However, the relatively dispersed nature of federal bodies funding this research, and a focus on defence and security, means that its co-ordination is not so visible. The most recent NSTC report from 2016 praises the track record of this approach in delivering innovative progress. It remains to be seen whether the traditional strength of bottom up commercial/academic partnership in the US outweighs the more overt central initiatives in other nations.

Since 2005 China had already made a series of world-class contributions in the field of quantum communications and in 2016 China identified quantum communications as a Top-100 key project in the 13th five-year plan. China has the largest existing fibre-based QKD network globally and in 2017 cemented its global lead with the first demonstration of space to ground QKD based on the Micius satellite. This scientific effort has been led by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Science and Technology China (UTSC). The national QKD network is being strengthened via a $80m Beijing-Shanghai backbone link. A $10b National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences is due to open in 2020 in Heifei. Spinoff companies such as QuantumCTek are seeking to commercialise current capabilities. Some western companies might initially query whether a Chinese company would be accepted as a suitable source for security-sensitive hardware. However, the novel nature of quantum security is potentially very relevant here. We can look forward to a future generation of devices that offer point-of-use testable security guarantees (e.g. MDI QKD)

Since 2013 the UK capability has benefited from a co-ordinated government investment programme in quantum technologies, now approaching £400m over a 5 year programme. The centrepiece of the programme has been the creation of four virtual hubs, involving 17 leading universities and over 130 companies, in the areas of: Sensors and Metrology, Enhanced Imaging, Networked Quantum Information and Quantum Communications. The ongoing programme was favourably supported by the Government’s Blackett review into quantum technologies at the end of 2016, which has strengthened co-ordination with the other strong UK capability in this area, the NCSC and GCHQ. Industrial partners have the opportunity to get involved in a full range of technologies via the Hubs.

The EU’s strength in quantum technologies is diverse. Europe was the birthplace of quantum physics in the early 20th century. In addition to the UK’s national programme, the Netherlands has a leading €146m investment over 10 years in QuTech at TUDelft. Other leading institutes active in this area include CNRS, Max Plank, Neils Bohr and the University of Vienna. To accelerate these research efforts and their commercialisation, a Quantum Manifesto for the EU was published in 2016 calling for €1b investment over 10 years. This is being taken forward as a Future & Emerging Technologies (FET) Flagship initiative, to be partly funded from existing Horizon 2020 (H2020) sources and other sources at EU and national level. Submission of research proposals and funding decisions are expected in 2018. Germany plans to invest €300m over 10 years via the QUTEGA National Initiative for Quantum technologies.

ETH Zurich (though outside of the EU) is closely entwined in leading European and global research. IDQuantique is a notable spinout from the Swiss academic sector and an early mover in the field of quantum safe cryptography. Similarly Zurich Instruments is a leader in control electronics.

Japan’s leading institutes such as University of Tokyo, RIKEN and JST have leading academic contributors particularly in Quantum Information Processing and Communications. Operating a QKD based network in Tokyo since 2010 has given Japanese groups leading experience operating this technology, and in 2017 this extended to trials in real world extended storage applications such as medical data backup. The Quantum ICT Advanced Development Center is part of NICT. Toshiba is a long standing investor in R&D in this area.

Canada is very strongly represented in quantum technologies, particularly through the Institute of Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo and the ‘Quantum Valley’ cluster of businesses it is creating around it. Quantum pioneering D-Wave Systems is headquartered in Canada. Prime Minister Trudeau is perhaps the only world leader to have given an off-the-cuff explanation of quantum computing at a press conference.

The Australian Research Council launched the Centre for Quantum Computation & Communication Technology (CQC2T) in 2015 with $24.5m funding over 7 years. Silicon Quantum Computing is a spinout from the University of New South Wales formed to accelerate the commercialisation of their interesting silicon qubit technology with a $83m of investment.

The Singapore Centre for Quantum Technologies was established in 2007 and benefits from long standing government support and its wide international collaboration base. Singapore is a world leading contributor to scientific publications on quantum computing.

The Russian Quantum Center is an initiative funded since 2010 via Russia’s Skolkovo Innovation Center initiative. It has been active in multi-site QKD demonstrations and quantum-secured blockchain proof of concept applications.

Company Initiatives

D Wave Systems – Founded in 1999, it is the first company to bring commercial quantum computing devices to market, most recently the D-Wave 2000Q System, based on quantum annealing. It is working with a number of clients including Lockheed Martin, Volkswagen and Google/NASA at the Ames Research Center. Being a first mover has allowed D Wave Systems to achieve a leading position in patent activity in the sector.

Google – Has investments in the Quantum AI Lab and a network of university relationships. Recent focus has been leveraging superconducting qubits, with a 9-qubit processor demonstrated in 2015 and a 20-qubit processor in test. Google has publically committed to a goal of achieving quantum supremacy, completing a calculation that cannot in practice be carried out by an existing supercomputer. It plans to do this based on a new 72-qubit chip.

IBM – Investments include the IBM Research Quantum Lab at the IBM Watson Research Center, NY, and IBM Q a pilot quantum cloud computing service (launched March 2017). Recent focus has been on superconducting qubits, with a 5-qubit processor in 2016, which was extended to a 16-qubit beta in 2017, and now a 50-qubit test chip. IBM researchers were able to use this platform to calculate the energy ground state of the BeH2 molecule, an interesting validation of potential applications in quantum chemistry.

Intel – Labs in Oregon and Arizona partnering with QuTech in the Netherlands ($50m grant in 2015 over 10 years). Has announced 17 and 49 qubit test chips based on superconducting qubits. They emphasise that they are also continuing to work on silicon based qubits.

Microsoft – Investments include QuArC in Redmond, Station Q Santa Barbara (UCSB), Lafayette Station Q (Purdue University). Collaborations with other leading universities also include TU Delft, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Sydney. Emphasis has been on the ‘full stack’ required for successful quantum computing. It is a first mover in this area, seeking to replicate the foundations of the firm’s original success in desktop computing. In 2017 it published a computing language designed especially for quantum computing. It has also been notable for funding research into a currently less mature topological qubit technology based on Majorana quasiparticles.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise – HPE has a long heritage of investment in quantum technologies via the old Hewlett Packard. However current major focus is on ‘The Machine’, a new architecture of advanced optical supercomputer. This may be an alternative bridge to future high performance computing.

Toshiba – A long standing investor in quantum technologies, particularly quantum communications. Has benefited from the long experience of operating with these technologies in Japan, and is now involved with BT in the roll out of the pilot UK QKD network.

Alibaba – has announced investments of $15b in R&D over 3 years. It plans to set up a network of research labs globally.  AI and quantum computing are expected to feature prominently, alongside data intelligence, Internet of Things and Fintech. With USTC it has launched a cloud service based on an 11-qubit superconducting chip.

Softbank – has a $100b Vision Fund for investment in technology opportunities, with an expected focus on AI and quantum computing.

For more about these or other companies and institutes driving the quantum technology revolution please go to the Fact Based Insight Quantum Company Finder and News service.

David Shaw

About the Author

David Shaw has worked extensively in consulting, market analysis & advisory businesses across a wide range of sectors including Technology, Healthcare, Energy and Financial Services. He has held a number of senior executive roles in public and private companies. David studied Physics at Balliol College, Oxford and has a PhD in Particle Physics from UCL. He is a member of the Institute of Physics. Follow David on Twitter and LinkedIn

Leave Comment