This small startup plans to take on Google by building its own quantum computing chip

Rigetti Computing that develops commercial quantum computing systems is working to build the hardware needed to power a quantum computer that could overcome any conventional machine by tapping into quantum mechanics.

By the end of 2017, the company has plans to develop a prototype chip that is considerably more complex than those built by other groups working on fully programmable quantum computers.

Chad Rigetti, the startup’s founder and CEO says that the next generation of chips should be able to speed up some kinds of machine learning and perform highly accurate chemistry simulations that might answer new kinds of industrial processes.

“The chips we roll out will be able to solve very profound problems,” he says. For instance, Rigetti refers to the Haber-Bosch process, which is estimated to be using 2 percent of the world’s energy while manufacturing ammonia for fertilizer production. It could be very valuable, if a more effective catalyst for the reaction is developed.

Rigetti is looking to eventually build a kind of quantum-powered cloud computing service, where customers pay to run problems on the company’s superconducting chips. Also, in order to make it easier for other companies to write code for its quantum hardware, it is working on software for the same.

 

That plan requires Rigetti to make upsurge of science and engineering that have so far evaded academic, government, and corporate labs. Building quantum computers is proving to be tricky, in spite of physicists providing outlines the basics of how quantum computers could be designed.

It consists of wiring together devices called qubits, which symbolize digital bits of data using delicate quantum-mechanical states. They not only can encode either a 0 or a 1 but they also can also enter a state that is effectively both at the same time, just like the basic components of a conventional computer. When qubits in that state of “superposition” act together, they can take computational shortcuts unavailable to conventional computers.

There are several different ways that qubits have been made by physicists. But only small numbers of qubits that work together have been contracted by academic and government researchers. D-Wave, a Canadian startup has sold a chip with more than a thousand qubits to clients including Google and Lockheed Martin. However, the technology has not been able to convincingly prove to provide a quantum computer’s benefits.



As the quantum claims they use to signify data are very delicate and the devices intervene with one another, qubits are tough to operate in groups. Using conventional chip-manufacturing techniques, Rigetti says his company can work out a qubit design that should be steady enough to step up.

Currently, a three-qubit chip made using aluminum circuits on a silicon wafer is being tested by the startup, and the design due next year should have 40 qubits. Thanks to design software his company has created, Rigetti says it is possible to lessen the number of prototypes that will be required to be built on its route to a final design. He says when it comes to chemistry simulations and machine learning, versions with 100 or more qubits would be able to improve on ordinary computers.

Others working on quantum computing are of the opinion that qubit technology has eventually reached a stage where the devices can be pooled in much larger numbers. The head of Google’s quantum computing lab, which like Rigetti makes use of superconducting qubits, has forecasted that in a couple of years, he can build chips with about 100 reliable qubits. Similarly, superconducting qubits of high quality have been developed by researchers at IBM, MIT Lincoln Lab, and other places. In the past, Rigetti has worked in IBM’s quantum computing research group.

“This is a very exciting time,” says Daniel Lidar, Director of the Center for Quantum Information Science and Technology at the University of Southern California. “This is not incremental; we’re really starting to see various groups working with superconducting qubits taking big strides forward.”

Lidar says that however it is still unclear when useful, large-scale quantum chips might be made. A serious effort at building one remains an expensive task, he says.

Google make it free to offer huge resources from the profits of its online ad business to its quantum computing lab that it wishes. The only company to provide a large-scale superconducting qubit chip is D-Wave, which hires over 100 people and has received more than $120 million from various investors, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and the CIA.

So far, Rigetti’s company comprises of about 15 people and has raised $5 million in funding. He added that the company will raise more money and add employees as needed. He also claims that the the best environment for answering the big test of improving qubit technology is the strong boundaries of a startup.

Source: Technology Review