How Close Are We to Quantum Commercialization?
While quantum hardware is making significant strides to market, the path to quantum commercialization still has numerous obstacles ahead.
Quantum computing has long been hailed as the next technology to unlock unprecedented computing performance.
While quantum computing began as a highly specialized field only accessible to researchers, developers worldwide can now access the power of quantum processors through the cloud. This cloud accessibility has encouraged hundreds of companies to put quantum processing to the test with real-world problems in healthcare, mobility, and advertising, among others. Despite this early hype, quantum hardware has yet to be proven commercially feasible, both economically and technologically, on a wider scale.
Example of some cloud-based quantum computing providers.
Many universities and companies continue investing in the research and development of quantum computing with the ultimate goal of sending the technology to market. How close are we to this end goal? Here are a few recent developments in the quantum space that may indicate a quickening pace toward mass production.
A Milestone for Silicon-based Qubits
One of the most prominent challenges to commercializing quantum computing is manufacturing this technology economically. Developers can more easily produce quantum computers on a large scale by using silicon-based qubits since the silicon manufacturing infrastructure is already well-established. However, silicon qubits have not yet been manufactured across an entire wafer.
Addressing this issue early in October, Intel announced a new milestone toward producing silicon-based qubits.
Intel’s fully processed 300 mm wafer. Image used courtesy of Intel
The company reported the industry’s highest yield and uniformity of silicon qubits to date. Achieved at Intel’s transistor research and development facility in Oregon, the research team created the world’s largest electron spin device, consisting of a single electron in each location across an entire 300-millimeter silicon wafer. In total, the device consisted of more than 900 single quantum dots and more than 400 double dots at the last electron. Equally as important, the device, which was fabricated using extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography, exhibited a 95% yield rate across the wafer.
This increased yield and uniformity marks a significant milestone toward commercializing quantum hardware, indicating a more reliable and economical manufacturing process.
Maximizing Quantum Devices on a Single Chip
Conventional microprocessors contain billions of transistors but only need hundreds of I/O. Researchers are still trying to figure out how to achieve this same behavior in the quantum realm. The path forward may lie in integrating quantum and conventional electronics together on the same chip.
In this pursuit, U.K.-based Quantum Motion announced that it achieved a world record measurement of quantum devices on a single silicon chip. The chip, dubbed Bloomsbury, features an area of 3x3 mm2 and was manufactured by an unnamed tier-one foundry in the same manufacturing processes used for standard semiconductors.
The chips produced by Quantum Motion. Image used courtesy of Quantum Motion
Unlike standard semiconductors, however, Bloomsbury integrated thousands of quantum dot devices on the same chip alongside conventional electronics. Operating at cryogenic temperatures, the chip uses quantum dot technology to control the spin of individual electrons to serve as qubits.
From an economic perspective, this news is significant because it proves the feasibility of using existing silicon manufacturing processes for the future of quantum hardware. Technologically, it is significant that the team integrated 1,024 quantum dots into an area of less than 0.1 mm2.
Off-the-Shelf Quantum Hardware Goes to Market
Companies intending to build quantum computers need qubits, but it is often expensive for these developers to produce this vital yet complex component themselves. That's why off-the-shelf quantum hardware is also an essential piece of the quantum commercialization puzzle.
Last year, QuantWare, a Dutch-based quantum computing startup, introduced the first commercially-available superconducting quantum processors (QPU). While quantum processors have only been available to large companies like Google and IBM to this point, QuantWare hopes to make superconducting QPUs available to researchers and companies at a reasonable cost—accelerating the marketization of quantum computers. QuantWare currently offers a quantum-limited traveling wave parametric amplifier, Crescendo; a five-qubit QPU, Soprano; and a 25-qubit QPU, Contralto.
QuantWare's 25-qubit QPU, Contralto. Image used courtesy of QuantWare
QuantWare co-founder Matthijs Rijlaarsdam compares the influence of the company's five-qubit Soprano QPU on the quantum market to the influence of Intel's 4004 on the semiconductor business. Because superconducting qubits are highly scalable and customizable, Rijlaarsdam believes superconducting QPUs are the top candidate for near-term quantum computing applications.
A Road to Commercialization
While quantum computing can revolutionize computing as we know it, the technology is far from mass production. Concerns over architecture and manufacturing still beleaguer industry players.
In the past, quantum computers could only operate at about -273°C—a temperature colder than conditions in outer space. Researchers are ever investigating qubits that can operate at room temperature, or "hot qubits," to address this issue. Australian-German startup Quantum Brilliance is using diamond-based quantum accelerators that don’t require absolute zero temperatures to operate, allowing developers to bring quantum hardware out of temperature-controlled labs to on-site locations.
According to Forbes contributor Jeremy Hilton, three key indicators point to the commercial viability of quantum technology on the horizon: a spike in early adopters of quantum technology, the rise of quantum pioneers, and a growing ecosystem of quantum supporters offering software and consulting resources.
Companies like Intel, Quantum Motion, and QuantWare, among scores of others, show that while the road to commercialization quantum is a long one, usable quantum hardware is already here among early adopters. More widescale adoption may be a matter of scalable production and infrastructural support over the next several years.