(OpticalSocietyIndustryJanuary2020Newsletter) For all the funding to advancing quantum science and technology, funding is also necessary to assure a U.S. supply of affordable high-performance components. And the most obvious source of funding is the U.S. government, in its role both as a customer and as a market maker. This finding comes from dozens of discussions with key stakeholders in quantum technology.
A common observation from customers is that the photonics technology needed for quantum photonics is commercially available, but they want better performance and most of all, lower prices. For example, low-noise lasers at visible wavelengths are necessary to couple to cold atoms for many quantum designs. But today’s volumes are low; few companies supply to that market. Improving the performance and reducing the price requires a substantial investment, too large for the suppliers to make alone. Without co-investment from partners, the technology cannot advance.
Private sector customers are still in R&D mode; they are just trying to get quantum prototypes to work, at any cost. They can make decisions to enter or exit the market with responsibility only to their investors. Few to none are likely to spend heavily to develop a supply infrastructure that also benefits their competitors.
The U.S. government is different, and is the obvious choice as the investor in a quantum photonics ecosystem. It is a customer for its own security needs, but with a longer-term interest than for-profit companies. It is “too big to fail” in the sense that it cannot risk its national security and competitiveness because it neglected investment in quantum science and its ecosystem of supporting products. The government can help the private sector ecosystem and protect its own national security interests at the same time.