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Startup in quantum computing aims for widespread adoption

The possibilities and challenges of quantum computing are enormous. While believers insist it will end cancer and rescue the world, sceptics say such hopes are unrealistic.

Qubits, or quantum bits, are at the centre of the field and provide a significant difficulty. These quantum information units are the quantum counterpart of binary bits in traditional computers. Qubits need to be reliably managed and mass-produced in order for quantum computers to be of any utility.

It’s a prerequisite that continues to baffle the best computer scientists in the world. Companies like IBM and Google have made great achievements by incorporating quantum bits (qubits) into their quantum processors, which must operate in accordance with the principles of quantum physics at very low temperatures. There’s a problem with this strategy, though: it calls for refrigerators that cost a million dollars each. Another reason is that computation errors might be caused by the placement of a single atom in the incorrect location on the semiconductor.

The UK-based startup Oxford Ionics uses an alternative approach. Electronic Qubit Control (EQC), a patented technology developed by the business, is used to regulate the qubits. By applying varying voltages and currents to a conventional microchip, the device generates magnetic fields in the immediate vicinity of the chip.

Atoms make up the quantum bits in this setup. These atoms seldom remain still for long enough in nature to carry out a calculation. Stabilization occurs when one electron is removed, creating an ion. Because of their electrical charge, these ions may be “trapped” by an electromagnetic field only a hair’s breadth above a chip.

Dr. Chris Balance, who with with others developed Oxford Ionics in 2019, likens the effect to that of toys that employ magnets to hang items in the air.

Balance tells TNW that this “gives us the best of all worlds” since now “we have a device that can be constructed exactly like a conventional computer processor and which can work at room temperature,” and flawless qubits produced from single ions floating above the chip. If we don’t construct the qubits, we can’t construct faulty ones. To the best of our knowledge, nature has ensured that every atom is chemically and physically indistinguishable from every other

“We have perfect qubits.

With their PhDs in Quantum Computing from Oxford, Ballance (right) and Tom Hardy (left) established Oxford Ionics. It’s all done using Oxford Ionics

Oxford Ionics’ approach of controlling qubits does not need lasers, unlike that of competing “trapped-ion” proponents. Laser-controlled devices, as stated by Balance, are useful for low-power systems but challenging to produce and integrate on a chip. When the processor and number of qubits become larger, they become more prone to errors.

The Oxford Ionics system has been proved to be more effective in testing. Ballance’s work was acknowledged in the scientific statement that preceded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics, and the technology presently holds a number of records for quantum computing performance, speed, and error rates.

Due of these accomplishments, investors have taken notice. Oxford Ionics has secured £30 million in Series A investment, which will be used for staff expansion and product launch, as was revealed last week.

The team at Balance is excited to start applying their skills to real-world issues.

Since we do not yet have quantum computers that answer problems we can’t solve in any other manner, the next several years will be spent in the “finding phase” of quantum computing.

As such, Balance does not plan to use Quantum Ionics’ technology into its consumer-focused semiconductor designs. He thinks the company’s quantum processors will work in tandem with traditional semiconductors.

He suggests considering graphics processing units (GPUs) with central processing units (CPUs).

Oxford Ionics has the potential to bring quantum computing into the mainstream, albeit the development of “killer applications” might take years.