Consortium to develop photonic quantum computer

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The PhoQuant project is a consortium led by the quantum start-up Q.ANT and it is now researching photonic quantum computer chips which can be operated at room temperature. One of the 14 consortium partners is the Dresden-based Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems IPMS.

Most quantum computers have to operate at extremely low temperatures close to absolute zero (- 273.15 °C). Cooling requirements are correspondingly high, and direct on-chip coupling with classical computer architectures is not possible. This project aims to address that problem and develop quantum computer chips that will be able to operate in conventional mainframe computers.

The "PhoQuant" project is being funded with around 50 million euros the bulk of which is coming from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), while the consortium partners will contribute around 8 million euros.

The funding will be used to build a demonstration and test facility for photonic quantum computer chips and other quantum computing components. In the project, the consortium will develop algorithms and technologies for photonic quantum computing and prepare for industrial deployment.

The functions required for computing operations can be fabricated on a single chip using sophisticated semiconductor manufacturing processes. By depositing highly specialised light channels on silicon wafers, quantum states can be manipulated, controlled and monitored in the so-called "photonic integrated circuits" with almost no loss, even at room temperature.

In the future, this will make it possible to use the chips to supplement conventional mainframe computers.

"The funding is an important signal for Germany as a location for innovation. We are at the dawn of the quantum computing age and the global race for market share of this future technology has begun. The funds now provided for this research alliance are an important building block for a quantum computer made in Germany," explained Michael Förtsch, CEO of Q.ANT.

During the 5 years of the project aims to provide computation for industry-relevant applications. A first example is the real-time optimisation of schedules at airports in case of unforeseen delays.

For this the consortium is developing a new photonic computing architecture that will enable a quantum computer with up to 100 qubits during the course of the project. Tailored to this new architecture, optimised algorithms for special problems as well as algorithms for universal quantum computing will be developed during the project and made available to the public via cloud connection.

"In this project, Fraunhofer IPMS is developing FPGA and ASIC architectures with active interfaces for high-precision control and evaluation of functionalities of the photonic quantum computer chip. In addition to know-how in photonics, competences in mixed-signal control design for FPGA and ASICs are particularly necessary," explained Marcus Pietzsch, head of the PhoQuant project at IPMS.

In two and a half years, the project partners want to present a first prototype, and in five years at the latest, a quantum computer chip capable of performing large-scale calculations should be developed. Experts currently see the use of computers with quantum chips in sectors such as the chemical industry, biomedicine and materials science.