Quantum computers have the potential to tackle problems that would take classical computers trillions of years to solve. Most quantum computer designs rely on cooling the hardware to extreme temperatures well below -200 degrees Celsius. But in recent years, the technology for desktop quantum computers has begun to advance.
Quantum computers are cool
Quantum computers are cool; they exploit the subatomic phenomena of superposition and entanglement. Creating bits of information, 1s and 0s, on a quantum scale leads to an exponential advantage in computing power. However, quantum systems are notoriously sensitive to noise. Multiple sources of noise can reduce the accuracy of a calculation or even destroy quantum information.
One of the most challenging noise sources to overcome is thermal noise. To avoid that, many popular hardware approaches are cooled to extremely cold temperatures. For example, superconducting quantum computers require specialized vacuum pumps and cryostats. This equipment is expensive, dependent on helium and requires a lot of space, water and power.
Until now, the infrastructure required to cool quantum computers has created a barrier to bringing quantum computers to our desktop computers. But new methods of quantum computing are emerging, including photonic and diamond defects. The potential for these technologies to operate at room temperature could greatly improve the accessibility of quantum computing and ultimately result in a larger addressable market.
Photonic Qubits Can Survive Hot Temperatures
Photonic platform quantum computing uses light to form qubits. This can be using the state of individual photons (polarization/squeezed) or the quantum states of beams of photons (qumodes). Photons are naturally more robust to thermal noise, and several companies are currently producing early-stage photonic quantum processors that don’t need to be cooled – QuiX, for example. Although scalable and versatile photonic hardware for quantum computing is still some way off, some application-specific devices have already been realized. This includes machines from ORCA capable of time-bin boson sampling – suitable for machine learning and generative modeling.
That said, investment in photonic quantum computing is increasing – exceeding $500 million by 2022. Many of the demands for better photon sources and less noisy architectures are being addressed, and optimism is high that scalable and versatile quantum computing using this approach is possible. This sector seeks to capitalize on the existing use of fiber optics for high-speed communications and the growing government interest in photonics for cryptography and cyber security.
Diamond lattice naturally shields Qubits from noise
Diamond defect qubits. Source: IDTechEx
In fact, several companies are already selling desktop diamond-defective quantum computers. Supercomputing centers and airlines have invested in diamond defect technology from the likes of Quantum Brilliance and XeedQ. However, the number of qubits demonstrated with the diamond defect remains in the single digits. It is generally agreed that to provide the most commercial value and meet the needs of error correction techniques, thousands, if not millions, of qubits are required. Some developers plan to demonstrate hundreds of diamond-defective qubits in the next few years, but there is plenty of research to be done, especially in optimizing the engineered diamond manufacturing processes.
Hype versus reality
Although it is theoretically possible to create room-temperature desktop quantum computers, today most developers of quantum computer hardware are focused on providing systems for industrial applications, including the aerospace, financial and chemical sectors. This includes many of the leaders in photonic and diamond defect quantum computing. There is general agreement that the most valuable problems that quantum computing will solve will first be achieved through cloud access models.
However, a future with room temperature solutions for the mass market should not be ruled out, the photon technology was even presented at CES this year. There are many more potential users outside of pharmaceuticals and aviation that could benefit from an affordable and mobile solution – primarily for edge AI, image processing and real-time logistics optimization. Autonomous vehicle manufacturers and supermarket chains are already exploring this quantum application space. There is even demand for higher performance in the harsh environment of space, for example to process images from satellite-mounted astronomical instruments.
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