Start-up innovation drives UK’s emerging quantum economy
(PhysicsWorld) The UK’s quantum computing ecosystem is gathering momentum, with a clutch of early-stage companies attracting significant investor funding to build the quantum computers of the future.
he strategic focus on quantum science and engineering in the UK has over the last few years generated a vibrant community of start-up companies that are aiming to build the quantum computers of the future. “We’re seeing that quantum ecosystem grow very rapidly,” says Michael Cuthbert, director of the National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC), a new facility that is now being built on the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire. “The start-up companies that have emerged, predominantly, from the UK’s academic sector, are driving excellent technical work. They are starting to raise significant investment on the back of robust and credible business models.”
Oxford Quantum Circuits is building its own quantum processors based on superconducting quantum circuits, and has recently made its Sophia platform available to end users through a quantum-computing as-a-service (QCaaS) model. The company has also signed an agreement with the NQCC that will provide UK users with priority access to its cloud-based quantum-computing resources.
One notable development is the announced merger between UK software specialist Cambridge Quantum with Honeywell Quantum Solutions, a US-based developer of quantum processors, to form the world’s largest integrated quantum-computing company. Honeywell made a cash injection of $270–300m into the combined company, called Quantinuum.
The challenge for these companies is finding and recruiting enough scientists and engineers to support such rapid growth. “There are very few degree courses in quantum computing,” points out Samantha Edmondson, who is responsible for talent acquisition and development at Universal Quantum. “Our roles need a combination of skills that are not often taught together at university level.”
Other companies are juggling long-term ambitions with the need to deliver tangible outcomes over the next few years. Universal Quantum, for example, was founded with the bold mission of building a million-qubit quantum computer, and its focus from the outset is to deliver a scalable solution based on trapped-ion technology. In the near term, the company will be heading up a £7.5m research project to build a scalable quantum computer that will also address the problem of error correction. “Error correction is crucial to achieving anything really useful with quantum computers,” comments Weidt.
Meanwhile, ORCA Computing hopes to offer some near-term quantum advantage by building hybrid systems that combine classical and quantum processors. “In the long term our goal is to build a scalable universal quantum computer that operates at room temperature using optical fibre and industry-standard components,” says Kris Kaczmarek, the company’s head of product.
Developing a strong user community in the UK will be one of the most important objectives for the NQCC. “Until now we’ve probably been focused more on the technology development, but ultimately quantum computing is about deriving real value across a range of different applications,” says NQCC director Michael Cuthbert. “The NQCC will be working with different industry sectors to provide the applications support they need to explore the use cases for quantum computing.”
NOTE: This article was published in PhysicsWorld and sponsored by Sponsored by the National Quantum Computing Centre.