December 24, 2016

Intel spending $50 million to develop silicon qubits that they would scale to quantum computers with millions of qubit

Intel has a team of quantum hardware engineers in Portland, Oregon, who collaborate with researchers in the Netherlands, at TU Delft’sQuTech quantum research institute, under a $50 million grant established last year. Earlier this month Intel’s group reported that they can now layer the ultra-pure silicon needed for a quantum computer onto the standard wafers used in chip factories.

This strategy makes Intel an outlier among industry and academic groups working on qubits, as the basic components needed for quantum computers are known. Other companies can run code on prototype chips with several qubits made from superconducting circuits

A quantum computer would need to have thousands or millions of qubits to be broadly useful, though. And Jim Clarke, who leads Intel’s project as director of quantum hardware, argues that silicon qubits are more likely to get to that point (although Intel is also doing some research on superconducting qubits). One thing in silicon’s favor, he says: the expertise and equipment used to make conventional chips with billions of identical transistors should allow work on perfecting and scaling up silicon qubits to progress quickly.

Intel’s silicon qubits represent data in a quantum property called the “spin” of a single electron trapped inside a modified version of the transistors in its existing commercial chips. “The hope is that if we make the best transistors, then with a few material and design changes we can make the best qubits,” says Clarke.

Another reason to work on silicon qubits is that they should be more reliable than the superconducting equivalents. Still, all qubits are error prone because they work on data using very weak quantum effects

Researchers at TU Delft in the Netherlands use equipment like this to test quantum computing devices at supercool temperatures, in a collaboration with chip maker Intel.

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