June 18, 2024

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Digitally first class

Britain needs to act fast to prevent a brain drain in its expertise in quantum technology

A rendering of what the final Rigetti quantum computer will look like - Oxford Instruments
A rendering of what the final Rigetti quantum computer will look like – Oxford Instruments

Britain’s first commercial quantum computer will be built in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, as part of a £10m project aiming to make the UK a leader in the technology.

US quantum start-up Rigetti will develop the computer alongside manufacturing firm Oxford Instruments, Standard Chartered, software start-up Phasecraft and the University of Edinburgh.

Quantum computing can potentially help with a range of issues from improving traffic flows in cities and towns to speeding up the development of new drugs. Industries like pharmaceuticals, aerospace, and transport, are likely to benefit most from the technology.

The technology is based on quantum bits or “qubits”. A qubit can allocate a value of zero, one, or both simultaneously as opposed to traditional computers, which assume each bit must have an either or value. This allows quantum computers to potentially solve problems in a matter of days that could take millions of years on a classic computer.

The consortium plans to have the computer in operation in the second half of next year.

About | What is quantum computing?
About | What is quantum computing?

Science minister Amanda Solloway said that using technology such as quantum computing to attract talent to the UK was a “key part” of the Government’s recovery plan.

“Our ambition is to be the world’s first quantum-ready economy, which could provide UK businesses and industries with billions of pounds worth of opportunities,” she said.

Rigetti chief executive and former IBM exec Chad Rigetti said the new computer would accelerate the development of “practical algorithms and applications”.

“By providing access to quantum hardware, the collaboration aims to unlock new capabilities within the thriving UK ecosystem of quantum information science researchers, start-ups, and enterprises who have already begun to explore the potential impact of quantum computing,” he said.

The Government has also opened a new National Quantum Computing Centre at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire. 

UK Research and Innovation chief Dame Ottline Leysey said the centre will tackle “bottlenecks” in the technology.

“Quantum computers are extraordinary new tools with the potential to allow us to tackle previously insurmountable challenges, promising benefits for all of society through applications in areas such as drug discovery and traffic optimisation,” she said. 

There have been numerous strides forward in quantum computing in recent years. Last year, it was reported that Google said that it had achieved “quantum supremacy” – where its computer could solve problems that would have previously been impossible.

Earlier this week, a Cambridge university spinout reached a key milestone in its race to commercialise quantum computers. Riverlane successfully completed a trial of its high-performance software to see if it could work as a “universal operating system” that could boost the performance of critical quantum computer features.​