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Australia races towards commercial quantum computing

Universities make headway in the challenge of commercialising quantum computing

Australia’s race to commercial quantum computing is hotting up, with important announcements from two of the country’s top universities.

At the University of New South Wales, a team led by the current Australian of the Year, Michelle Simmons, has demonstrated a tiny sensor that can be used to access information stored in the electrons of atoms – which are the building blocks for quantum computing’s qubits.

Simmons’ focus has been on developing qubits and quantum computers in silicon, believing this offers the best chance for commercialisation. The team is working on a 10-qubit prototype.

The sensor, developed at the university’s Centre of Excellence for Quantum Computation and Communication Technology (CQC2T), keeps the gate density per qubit at a low level without compromising the system’s ability to monitor the movement of electrons – and so read information stored at a quantum level.

Simmons said: “This represents a major advance in how we read information embedded in our qubits. The result confirms that single-gate reading of qubits is now reaching the sensitivity needed to perform the necessary quantum error correction for a scalable quantum computer.”

Meanwhile, at the University of Sydney, which has its own ambitions to help build Australia’s quantum economy, a spin-off venture, Q-CTRL, has released Black Opal, which it claims is the first commercially available software suite designed to improve the performance of quantum computing hardware.

Michael Biercuk, Q-CTRL’s founder and chief executive, said the software had been designed to help developers scale up quantum computers – bringing together multiple qubits so they can operate stably together, and hence emerge from the research labs to do useful work.

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Q-CTRL claims that the software, which is available freely to the public through to 2019, “is suitable for all users, ranging from junior students learning about quantum physics through to professional teams in quantum computing looking to put the most advanced optimisation tools to work in their systems”.

Phil Morle, a partner at Main Sequence Ventures, an Australian venture capital firm that has invested in Q-CTRL, said: “After decades in the labs, it appears that a new quantum-powered industry is emerging and we are excited to see Q-CTRL playing a crucial role. I think we might see useful quantum computers sooner than we had thought.”

Although there was some scepticism about Gartner’s recent decision to drop its “hype horizon” for quantum computing by five years, Australia’s research efforts suggest that commercial quantum computing services are edging closer.

In its recent Top 10 technology trends for 2019, Gartner forecast that by 2023, 20% of organisations will have quantum computing projects in their sights, compared with less than 1% now.

The University of NSW’s Simmons said quantum will not replace classical computing, but will augment it in a series of very specific areas where there are many variables.

She predicted applications in areas such as optimisation, routing fleet services and complex behavioural analysis – also autonomous vehicles, where there are large quantities of data that cannot be processed quickly enough by conventional computers.

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