Entering the quantum era

Entering the quantum era

The world’s most powerful computer hasn’t yet been built – but we have the blueprint, says the team behind Oxford spinout Quantum Dynamics

Meanwhile, Chris Ballance, co-founder of spinout Oxford Ionics, says ‘quantum computing is already solving complex computing test cases in seconds – solutions that would otherwise take thousands of years to find.’

Following decades of pioneering research and development – much of it carried out at the University of Oxford –some of the world’s most innovative companies have integrated their technology into existing systems with excellent results.

Ask a quantum scientist at the University of Oxford for a helpful analogy and they may direct you towards the Bodleian library: a classical computer would look through each book in turn to find the hidden golden ticket, potentially taking thousands of years; an advanced quantum computer could simply open every book at once.

From drug discovery and climate prediction to ultra-powerful AI models and next-generation cryptology and cybersecurity, the potential applications of quantum computing are near-limitless. We’re not there yet, but a host of quantum-based companies with roots in Oxford academia are driving us towards a world of viable, scalable and functional quantum computers – and making sure we’ll be safe when we get there.

With the UK government’s recent announcement to inject £45 million into funding quantum computing research, the future is looking brighter for getting these technologies out into the real world.

Let’s meet some Oxford spinouts leading the charge.

Quantum Motion Technologies

Research suggests that, as with today’s smartphones and computers, silicon is the ideal material from which to make qubits – the basic units of quantum information and the building blocks of quantum computers. Formed in 2017 by Professor Simon Benjamin of Oxford’s Department of Materials and Professor John Morton at UCL, Quantum Motion is developing scalable architecture to take us beyond the current small, error-prone quantum computers.

PQShield

Any news article about the benefits of quantum computing is also likely to highlight a threat: the potential of quantum technology to shatter today’s encryption techniques (imagine a computer able to guess all possible password combinations at once). PQShield, spun out of Oxford’s Mathematical Institute by Dr Ali El Kaafarani, uses sophisticated maths to develop secure, world-leading ‘post-quantum’ cryptosystems. The team has the largest assembly of post-quantum crypto specialists in the world, servicing the whole supply chain.

Orca Computing

Making quantum computing a practical reality is what drives the team at Orca, spun out of research developed at the University of Oxford in 2019. The company is developing scalable quantum architecture using photonics – the manipulation of light – as its basis. In the short-term, that means creating usable technology derived from repurposing telecoms for quantum. This enables the team to build massive-scale information densities without resorting to impossible numbers of components. In the longer-term, Orca’s approach means error-corrected quantum computers with truly transformative potential. Dr Richard Murray, CEO and co-founder, explains: ‘Thanks to our drive towards delivering commercially realistic solutions, we are addressing the consumption of quantum.’

Oxford Ionics

Co-founded in 2019 by Dr Chris Ballance of Oxford’s Department of Physics, Oxford Ionics’ qubits are composed of individual atoms – the universe’s closest approximation to a perfect quantum system. These high-performance qubits have won Oxford Ionics a £6m contract to supply a quantum computer to the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre in Harwell, Oxfordshire, with the aim of developing new applications. 

QuantrolOx

To build practical quantum computers, scientists will need millions of physical qubits working in constant harmony – a big challenge to scaling up. QuantrolOx’s AI software automates the ‘tuning’ process, allowing quicker feedback and better performance. The company, co-founded by Professor Andrew Briggs of Oxford’s Department of Materials, envisions a world where every quantum computer will be fully automated.

Oxford Quantum Circuits

Oxford Quantum Circuits’ quantum computer is the only one of its kind commercially available in the UK. The company, founded by Dr Peter Leek of Oxford’s Department of Physics and today led by founding CEO Ilana Wisby, is driving quantum technology out of the lab and directly to customers’ fingertips, enabling breakthroughs in areas such as predictive medicine, climate change and AI algorithms. Ilana’s vision is for ten machines in ten countries within ten years.

Other innovations in processing power

As quantum computing continues to progress – but with the timeline for adoption unclear – innovators in Oxford are also looking for ways to turbocharge today’s computing technology.

Salience Labs

The speed of AI computation doubles every few months, outpacing standard semiconductor technologies. Salience Labs, a joint spinout of Oxford and Münster universities, is building photon-based – rather than electron-based – solutions to allow us to keep up with exponential AI innovation and the vast amounts of information that require processing in the 21st century.

Lumai

AI’s ability to analyse vast datasets at rapid pace is one of its big selling points. Trained models can produce diagnoses from a patient’s medical images or help insurance companies detect fraud. Oxford spinout Lumai works at the nexus of 3D optics and machine learning to provide an energy-efficient AI processor that delivers computation speeds 1,000 times faster than traditional electronics, enabling AI inference to move to the next level. 

Machine Discovery

Harnessing its proprietary neural network technology, Machine Discovery makes complex numerical simulations quicker and cheaper. The Oxford Department of Physics spinout aims to provide its customers with all the benefits of machine learning – without the years of AI research. Its ‘Discovery Platform’ technology allows users to describe their problem and let the software find the solution.

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