IBM Accelerates Germany as a Quantum Hub with EU’s First Quantum Computer

June 24, 2021 by Tyler Charboneau

Quantum computing momentum just got faster with the EU's first quantum computer: IBM's "Quantum System One." What could this computer mean for the EU, quantum technology, and Germany?

Being the center of new and industry-changing innovations is often sought after. With the rise in quantum breakthroughs, one place strives to be the quantum "hot spot:" Germany. 

Recently, Germany's position came just a bit closer to reality, with help from IBM and the Fraunhofer Society, by creating Europe's (EU) first quantum computer, the Quantum System One (QSO). 


EU's first quantum computer: IBM's Quantum System One.

EU's first quantum computer: IBM's Quantum System One. Image used courtesy of IBM


Accordingly, IBM's QSO looks to surpasses even traditional supercomputers in its capabilities. So what does this mean for quantum research? Also, what other efforts has Germany been working on to reach its goal to become a computing nexus or "quantum hub" in the coming years? 


Understanding the Quantum System One

The development of IBM's newest quantum system didn't happen overnight. IBM released an innovation roadmap back in September 2020, outlining how the company will eventually produce a 1,000-qubit quantum processor. 

A few projects that the company is planning are the debut of its 127-qubit Eagle processor and, with a 2023 launch goal, its 1,123-qubit Condor chip, which is a company first. 


IBM's roadmap for scaling quantum technology.

IBM's roadmap for scaling quantum technology. Image used courtesy of IBM


When it comes to the computing race, two forces are central: hardware and software. Though IBM's push for quantum technological development kicked off publicly late last year, it has been adamantly innovating hardware and software to find solutions to bring an age of quantum computing. 

IBM fittingly announced its open ecosystem development plan back in February—a second crucial puzzle piece and one that promises to help quantum programming flourish by 2025 onward. A hardware platform has little real-world value without applications, APIs, and on-demand virtual processing. 

The creation of QSO represents an intersection of these goals. The system uses IBM's 27-qubit Falcon processor, yet it can accommodate the 65-qubit Hummingbird processors and its Eagle successor. In addition, QSO is the company's newest testbed for emerging quantum hardware technologies—including cryogenic systems. 


IBM's Hummingbird quantum processor.

IBM's Hummingbird quantum processor. Image used courtesy of IBM


The QSO will also accumulate plenty of mileage while operational. The platform will be accessible to scientists, researchers, and academics in complex fields. For greater reference, IBM's overarching Quantum Network has over 140 client partners; 330,000 users leverage the network of computers to run over one billion daily circuits. 

Using the company's Qiskit runtime, System One and its cousins will inspire engineers to package quantum technology, classical computing, and cloud processing together. Boosting speed and reducing errors are just a few key focal points. 

Though certainly a massive global development, the triumph of making IBM's QSO available to European partners, more specifically in Germany, can be telling for the future of quantum computing in the EU. One question that comes to mind is, why and how is the country exploding onto the quantum scene? 


Building a German Quantum Epicenter

In Ehningen, Germany, IBM Quantum System One is the first quantum computer of its kind in Europe. An identical QSO was exclusively located in IBM's New York datacenter before helping build one in the EU. 

This addition to the quantum computing network is beneficial because the more quantum computers, the better. As quantum workloads grow more ubiquitous in the coming years, splitting them between multiple systems will be necessary. Otherwise, lengthy cloud job queues could cause processing delays—especially before quantum reserved capacity becomes widely available. 

There's currently plenty of quantum computing buy-in within Germany. The Fraunhofer Society—a multi-institute collective centered on scientific research—played a crucial role in purchasing the continent's preeminent quantum workhorse. The group will continue to operate the system at its Stuttgart facility. Additionally, German chancellor Angela Merkel helped present Quantum System One to the masses at IBM DACH


The Quantum Roadmap and Academic Participation

Government support remains strong following a €2 billion pledge to fund quantum research. Politically and economically, federal legislators believe quantum innovation could bolster German prominence domestically and on the world stage. This pledge is just one part of the country's Quantum Computing Roadmap. 

Another part of the roadmap is the crucial role of attracting top global quantum engineering talent to German tech hubs. These regional locations dubbed "Centers of Competence" encompass companies, research firms, and academic institutions committed to quantum development. 

One specific venture is the Munich Quantum Valley. Members—including Fraunhofer and other Bavarian institutions—want the Munich metropolitan area to be a destination for quantum experts. The regional group hopes to play a central role in the national quantum strategy. As a center for funding and R&D, this area seeks to emulate America's Silicon Valley. 

Adding to this strategy, numerous universities are also already forging ahead with computing research—and have introduced new coursework on the subject. However, making the field accessible to more students and professionals alike is another pivotal step in the roadmap.


Is a German Quantum Hub Beneficial?

As the momentum builds in Germany, a few benefits could come out of creating a quantum hub there.

Consider Germany's dominant sectors, the headliner of which is automotive. Quantum computing has immense potential to optimize materials science, algorithmic processing of autonomous driving data (including routes or navigation), and novel technology development. Moreover, the mesh of quantum computing with automotive developments could help push innovations and breakthroughs that standard computing struggled with. 


An example of an automotive use case for quantum computing.

An example of an automotive use case for quantum computing. Image used courtesy of Future Bridge Analysis


While OEMs in the automotive space might have long-term goals, they might not know which innovations will achieve them. Quantum computing could help accelerate research processes. According to McKinsey & Company, 10% of all quantum use cases explored today could benefit the industry

Another benefit is how this hot spot could also open up more jobs in new technology and the quantum field as a whole. Like Silicon Valley, Germany's hub may attract electrical engineers of all sorts. This pressure to grow both quantum technology and Germany's technological workforce has the potential to grow with both experts and newer engineers. 

One key to further this growth is the support of large semiconductor and tech companies looking to get in on the potential. 


Future Potential

There's plenty of buzz surrounding quantum computing in Germany. Resources are flowing from multiple fronts, and companies aren't afraid to explore emerging technologies as they mature. Quantum processing in itself has massive potential to solve complex problems, and everyone wants in on the action. 

Universities aside, companies will be at the forefront of this movement. For example, Infineon has helped found the Quantum Technology and Application Consortium (QUTAC). This group of 10+ companies—including Volkswagen, BMW, Bosch, BASF, and Merck—hope to make quantum technology commercially viable and more mainstream. In addition, by testing and sharing applications, participants can help build a stronger German and global tech landscape. 

As the quantum arms race heats up, several uses will surface. First, funding and proofs of concept will help build confidence in quantum's future. From there, more technology and announcements from Germany are sure to come.