Imec and NUS to collaborate on chip-based quantum cryptography technology

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Imec, the research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have signed a research collaboration agreement to develop chip-based prototypes for secure quantum communication networks.

As part of this five-year agreement, imec and NUS will jointly develop scalable, robust and efficient technologies for quantum key distribution and quantum random number generation, which are amongst the basic building blocks of a secure Quantum Internet.

Research in quantum information science has indicated that large-scale quantum computers could end up rendering most of today’s encryption techniques as insecure. Although a large-scale quantum computer is still some time off, the situation is nevertheless seen as needing a response.

As a result, two broad directions have been pursued globally, namely a software-based approach called post-quantum cryptography and a hardware-based approach called quantum cryptography.

Post-quantum cryptography looks to update existing cryptographic algorithms and standards so that current infrastructures would be ready for a post-quantum digital world. It however maintains a security profile that is still based on many unproven assumptions. Quantum cryptography, by contrast, offers a much stronger security guarantee: its security is solely based on the laws of quantum physics and is, in principle, unbreakable.

As such, it is regarded in terms of critical information infrastructures with long-term security needs such as healthcare, government and banking, quantum cryptography as the safer way to go.

With this approach, two essential building blocks are quantum key distribution (QKD) and quantum random number generation (QRNG). At present, however, the methods and processes enabling these quantum technologies are limiting and very expensive. Consequently, these bottlenecks have made quantum cryptography unattractive for wide-spread deployment.

Together, imec and NUS will be looking to resolve some of these bottlenecks, leveraging on the theoretical, experimental and engineering expertise of their respective R&D teams. The overarching objective is to move QKD and QRNG technologies to a platform which is much more scalable, robust, and cost-effective. The research collaboration is supported by the National Research Foundation Singapore under the Quantum Engineering Programme.

“Our approach consists of developing and integrating all QKD key components in a single silicon-photonics based chip, which ensures a cost-effective solution,” said Joris Van Campenhout, R&D Program director at imec. “As a first deliverable, we will jointly develop an
ultrafast quantum random number generation (QRNG) chip, a key component for generating the secret keys.

"Secondly, we will work on a compact, fully-integrated photonic quantum transmitter prototype chip. In these efforts, we will strongly leverage imec’s deep expertise in silicon photonics technology, originally developed for conventional datacom and telecom applications.”

Dr. Charles Lim, Assistant Professor at NUS said: “The development of chip-based prototypes will allow us to turn today’s QKD technologies into an efficient communication networking solution. Our team at NUS will bring in expertise on the theory, protocol design, and proof-of-concept experiments of the quantum random number generator and QKD systems. We’re very excited to collaborate with Imec, as their expertise will allow us to translate these solutions into real silicon-photonics based chips – by using imec’s process design kits and re-usable IP blocks.”