Honeywell sees path to world’s most powerful quantum computer in 3 months
Honeywell plans to introduce the “world’s most powerful quantum computer,” a buzzy experimental type of computer that is pitched as a successor to today’s supercomputers.
The industrial conglomerate said on Tuesday that it will introduce the computer in three months, putting it in competition with companies like Google and IBM that are working on similar technology and have already unveiled early versions of their technology.
Honeywell is basing its potential claim to the world’s most powerful quantum computer on a metric called “quantum volume,” which takes into account multiple factors including the number of “quantum bits,” or qubits, available in a given machine. Quantum volume also factors in the qubits’ connectivity, meaning how well the qubits interact with each other, and fidelity, meaning how prone they are to errors.
A quantum computer with a higher quantum volume can, theoretically, solve more complex problems—meaning it has more power. While early quantum computers tended to compete solely on number of qubits, quantum volume has been gaining steam as a more holistic yardstick by which to measure the machines, since it conveys more information about their potential utility.
Honeywell says the quantum computer it unveiled Tuesday morning has a quantum volume of 16. The company plans to debut a machine with a quantum volume of 64 in the coming months.
If Honeywell can reach its targets as quickly as it says, it will be something of a darkhorse hardware provider in the nascent corporate quantum computing race. In recent years, since the introduction of the first quantum computers, the technology has been dominated by tech powerhouses IBM and Google
Earlier this year, IBM said it had produced a quantum computer with a quantum volume of 32, doubling its achievement of a machine with a quantum volume of 16 from a year prior. Honeywell’s quantum computer appears poised to surpass it.
Scientists believe quantum computers will one day perform calculations that are impossible for present-day computers, greatly advancing pharmaceutical research, the energy efficiency of batteries, financial risk modeling, and more. No one is sure how soon that day may come.
Competition over the nascent market has been heating up.
Google made waves when it announced last year that it had attained “quantum supremacy,” an impressive-sounding milestone that means its quantum computer performed a task unfeasible for a classical computer to replicate. The demonstration’s utility—it involved an arcane calculation based on random number sampling—remains an open question.
IBM has taken a different approach by slowly and steadily boosting the quantum volume in its machines. Last year it debuted a machine it dubbed the world’s “first commercial quantum computer,” signaling that the technology was moving out of the laboratory and into the business world.
Google and IBM are both pursuing a technology called “superconducting qubits.” The technique involves cooling down specially designed semiconductors until they exhibit weird physical properties, like “superposition” and “entanglement,” two hallmarks of quantum science that allow qubits to store more information and run massively parallel operations, respectively.
Honeywell has staked its bet on a different technology. The company is building “trapped ion” quantum computers, which use lasers to manipulate charged atoms in a vacuum. The method has shown early promise for its relative stability and low error rates, keeping quality qubits in play for longer. (The longer a calculation takes, the likelier it is that a qubit will degrade.)
Early success has caused Honeywell executives to brim with confidence. The company posted a paper describing its method on the scientific pre-print site ArXiv on Tuesday.
Tony Uttley, Honeywell’s president of quantum solutions, believes the company will quickly outpace its rivals. “We’re on a trajectory to increase that quantum volume 10-fold every year for the next five years,” Uttley says.
That ambitious forecast has attracted interest from partners. Honeywell said Tuesday that is has teamed up with JPMorgan Chase to develop financial algorithms on its quantum computers. Marco Pistoia, managing director and research lead at JPMorgan Chase and a former longtime IBM researcher, said in a statement that the collaboration will help the bank “get closer to tackling major and growing business challenges.”
Darius Adamczyk, Honeywell’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement that companies should start exploring how quantum computing fits into their overall business strategy now, since the technology will have significant applications in so many different fields—ranging from transportation and logistics to medicine.
In addition to partnering with businesses, Honeywell said Tuesday that its venture capital arm placed bets on two quantum computing software startups: Boston-based Zapata Computing and UK-based Cambridge Quantum Computing.
Last year Honeywell partnered with Microsoft, enabling customers of Azure, Microsoft’s “cloud computing” business, to access to its quantum computers. The tie-up provided Microsoft a quantum computer offering to compete with cloud computing rivals Google and IBM, while it gave Honeywell hooks into more potential customers.
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