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Quantum computing consortium wins £7.5 million grant

A consortium led by Universal Quantum has been awarded a £7.5m grant from Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to build a scalable quantum computer that can correct errors. The consortium also aims to apply this technology to high-impact problems in the aerospace industry. 

Dr Sebastian Weidt, co-founder and CEO at Universal Quantum and lecturer in quantum technologies at the University of Sussex, said: ‘Error correction is crucial to achieving anything really useful with quantum computers, so we are absolutely delighted to have been awarded this grant. This project is an important step forward, helping us to go from today’s proof of principle machines to scalable quantum computers that can solve some of the world’s most pressing computational challenges.’ 

Aside from Universal Quantum, a University of Sussex spin-out company, the consortium brings together sector leaders covering key areas of quantum computing development. The consortium includes end-user Rolls-Royce supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Hartree Centre, quantum software developer Riverlane, supply chain partners Edwards, TMD Technologies (now acquired by Communications & Power Industries (CPI)) and Diamond Microwave, commercialisation and dissemination experts Sia Partners and Qureca and world-class academic groups from Imperial College London and the University of Sussex. 

The consortium will tackle a major challenge in making quantum computers commercially viable, correcting the errors that quantum bits – qubits – are prone to. The consortium is taking a cohesive approach, addressing the key issues to make a useful quantum computer at the software, hardware and end-user level.

Dr Steve Brierley, CEO and founder of quantum software company Riverlane, said: ‘Quantum computers will only be truly valuable if we can crack the challenge of quantum error correction. Software and hardware perspectives will need to come together and work collaboratively to make this happen. This is why Riverlane is so excited to be part of the consortium: Our integrated approach to solving the error correction problem will make quantum computers useful sooner and help companies like Rolls-Royce use the immense powers of quantum computers to usher in a new era of computer-driven aerospace engineering.’

Quantum computers are highly susceptible to noise. To overcome this, the consortium will develop quantum algorithms to identify and fix these errors. However, these algorithms will eventually require thousands – potentially millions – of qubits to correct all errors and provide us with what many call the Holy Grail in quantum computing: a fault-tolerant quantum computer. 

The software also needs a quantum machine that can scale to such a large number of qubits, and this is the focus of Universal Quantum. Professor Winfried Hensinger, Co-Founder and chief scientist at Universal Quantum and director of the University of Sussex Center for Quantum Technologies, said: ‘Universal Quantum’s scalable approach to building quantum computers overcomes major barriers to large-scale quantum computing using trapped-ions. Instead of complex laser-based technology, we process quantum information by applying voltages to a microchip analogous to a classical transistor. Where other devices use complex photonic interconnects between quantum computing modules, we use ultra-fast electric field connections that can be orders-of-magnitude faster and rely on much simpler engineering. Plus, our unique design does not require cooling to near absolute zero as with superconducting quantum computers.’ 

The consortium will bring together quantum hardware and software experts with world-class engineers and UK businesses, creating a new quantum ecosystem for the UK and boosting the burgeoning quantum tech cluster in the Greater Brighton City Region.

Using Universal Quantum’s scalable hardware, Riverlane, STFC Hartree Centre and experts from Rolls-Royce will map a specific use case to Universal Quantum’s computer, solving a set of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) problems in the aerospace sector. 

Professor Leigh Lapworth, Rolls-Royce fellow in computational sciences, said: ‘We are excited to be part of this consortium and to be leading the work package on quantum Computational Fluid Dynamics algorithms. We’re one of the world’s leading industrial technology companies, pioneering solutions to some of the world's biggest technological challenges. CFD is crucial to meeting our ambitions, but it must be scalable, accurate and robust. These are cutting-edge challenges for a quantum CFD algorithm, and this unique consortium brings together the UK’s world-leading quantum computing experts to address them. The potential impacts of quantum CFD are immense, and we are grateful to Innovate UK for giving us the opportunity to pursue them.’ 

The specific test case for this project applies to combustion modelling, which is crucial to the development of sustainable aviation fuels and next-generation jet engines. But the target algorithm and its derivatives alone are used in more than 50 per cent of CFD calculations worldwide. 

Dr Weidt concluded: ‘We still have a long way to go to achieve fault-tolerant quantum computing, but this consortium will allow us to make a big step towards unlocking the full commercial potential of quantum computers.’


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