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Quantum bits: Research partnerships, building an ecosystem

To speed development of quantum computers that are at least 10,000 times faster than today's most powerful machines, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity awarded a five-year  research contract to a consortium of universities and private companies led by the University of Southern California.

USC will lead the Quantum Enhanced Optimization program to design, build and test 100-qubit quantum machines that could enable machine learning for image recognition, resolving scheduling conflicts in events with many participants, as well as sampling for improved prediction of random events. Pending continued success, the contract is worth up to $45 million in funding, university officials said.

The team’s goal is to build the specialize processors called quantum annealers that allow the qubits to behave in a quantum fashion for long periods of time. The team aims to design multi-qubit couplers to allow for various configurations that will enable faster-paced calculations.

Other institutions that are part of the five-year research initiative include MIT, Caltech, Harvard, UC Berkeley, University College London, University of Waterloo, Saarland University, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Government partner MIT Lincoln Labs will fabricate the hardware designed by the USC-led consortium, while NASA Ames and Texas A&M will serve as government test and evaluation teams.

Meanwhile, the University of Chicago is collaborating with the Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory to launch an intellectual hub for advancing broader academic, industrial and governmental efforts in the science and engineering of quantum information.

The Chicago Quantum Exchange will focus on development of new applications with the potential to dramatically improve technology for communication, computing and sensing. The collaboration will include scientists and engineers from the two national labs and university's Institute for Molecular Engineering, as well as scholars from the physics, chemistry, computer science, and astronomy and astrophysics departments.

Other efforts are working to build the quantum ecosystem through networking, chip manufacturing and programming.

Fermilab teamed up with the California Institute of Technology and the AT&T Foundry innovation center to develop a prototype quantum information network at the lab. The partners, which have long collaborated on transmitting the massive data sets from the Large Hadron Collider, have formed the Alliance for Quantum Technologies, which aims to speed quantum technology development and emerging practical applications.

The partners are working on the INtelligent Quantum NEtworks and Technologies project that will focus on applying quantum networking technologies to the need for capacity and security in communications.

One of the first demonstrations of intelligent and quantum network technologies will be in quantum entanglement distribution and relevant benchmarking and validation studies using commercial fiber provided by AT&T, company officials said.

Rigetti Computing, which calls itself a "full-stack quantum computing company" that designs and manufactures superconducting quantum integrated circuits, recently announced its Fab-1 facility and Forest 1.0 quantum software development service.

Fab-1 aims to enable engineers to build new designs for 3D integrated quantum circuits in about two weeks, which is much faster than the months it takes university researchers to design and build new quantum computing chips, Spectrum IEEE reported. The "rapid iteration" will accelerate progress in design and manufacturing capabilities, Rigetti said.

Forest, Rigetti's programming and execution environment,  gives developers an opportunity to experiment with quantum computers, build algorithms for quantum/classical hybrid computing, simulate those algorithms on Rigetti's 30-qubit simulator or in the cloud and interact with real quantum chips using simple function calls that execute on the company's active system.

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA from West Chester University and an MA in English from the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at smiller@gcn.com or @sjaymiller.

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