Quantum processors: industrial production before the breakthrough

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Quantum processors: industrial production before the breakthrough

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According to Infineon and its partner Oxford Ionics, the industrial production of quantum processors (QPUs) is on the verge of a breakthrough. The basis of QPU are ion traps and special electronic qubit control (EQC). The first solutions should be available by the end of 2022.

Infineon has already developed commercially produced ion trap chips. Quantum processors are to be created in conjunction with the electronic control of the Oxford Ionics qubit.

(Photo: Infineon Technologies)

Infineon Technologies (Infineon) and Oxford Ionics plan to jointly develop and manufacture fully integrated quantum processors (quantum processing units, QPU units). Specifically, Oxford Ionics is to be supplemented with Infineon’s know-how in the field of ion trap modules and manufactured at the company’s Neubiberg factories. This should lay the groundwork for industrial production of QPUs with hundreds of qubits over the next five years. According to Infineon, the goal is “to extract quantum computing technology from a research laboratory and transfer it to industrial applications.”

The mentioned Infineon ion traps play a special role in this cooperation. These pitfalls are a fundamental element in the construction of quantum computers, which can be used, for example, to solve complex optimization problems that cannot be solved with conventional computers. However, the reliable production of such traps, especially on an industrial scale, is very difficult. Since 2016, the company has been conducting research, mainly at its plant in Villach, Austria, to combine scientific knowledge in the field of quantum technologies with large-scale industrial production.

Problem: Increase performance while improving scalability

“The big challenge in quantum computing is scaling while increasing efficiency,” said Chris Ballance, co-founder of Oxford Ionics. There are technologies that can scale but do not increase performance. There are also technologies that increase performance but do not allow you to scale. His company has managed to develop an electronic control that can do both.

By working with Infineon, Oxford Ionics can leverage the company’s flexible semiconductor processes – and thus “shorten the time to a commercial QPU,” the Oxford Ionics CEO hopes. Its processors can achieve “the highest error rates in the market,” which means they will need “significantly fewer qubits to solve significant problems” than other technologies.

The development of quantum computers is difficult

Unlike a digital bit, qubits have not only two states, but any number of states that overlap. On the one hand, this overlap is an advantage of qubits for some calculations, but on the other hand, it is also a disadvantage: since in order to be able to use qubits for calculations, it must be possible to influence the qubits precisely – to program them, so to speak – and finally to read them. At the same time, the qubits must be protected as much as possible from the outside world, otherwise they can change their state very easily and the result is useless. This sounds a bit like squaring a circle.

The qubits of a quantum computer can be together in a tangled quantum state. As a result, a quantum computer achieves a very high degree of parallelism, which is the basis of its extremely high computing power. Put simply, a tangled quantum register contains at the same time all possible solutions to a programmed task. When reading, the correct solution will most likely “freeze”. This applies at least to those tasks that quantum computers are suitable for. On the other hand, a conventional computer has to compute all possible solutions one by one.

Industrial production important to the success of quantum technology

Ion trap with the Oxford Ionics chip, manufactured by the Infineon company.  Each wafer contains approximately 700 ion trap chips.
Ion trap with the Oxford Ionics chip, manufactured by the Infineon company. Each wafer contains approximately 700 ion trap chips.

(Photo: Infineon Technologies)

In fact, according to Infineon, it is difficult to exploit the parallelism of qubit states for general calculations. Until now, there were no operating systems or programming languages ​​on the basis of which the computing power of quantum computers could be easily used for general tasks. For this reason, so far only the first fundamental quantum computers and related special software have been developed for individual, highly specific and precisely defined tasks. More useful solutions would need to be able to control the increasing number of qubits and keep quantum error rates at or below the state of the art.

Experts are confident that it will succeed and that quantum computing is opening up previously unimaginable opportunities for companies across many industries to radically improve their processes and skills. For this, however, the partners believe that qubit technologies must be able to be produced on a large scale. An important step in this direction is the Oxford Ionics EQC technology: It offers the possibility to integrate qubits with an ion trap – currently the leading qubit technology in terms of quantum error rates – with Infineon’s mature semiconductor processes.

Goal: Access to the first cloud quantum computers by the end of 2022.

Oxford Ionics wants to make its first products available to commercial players via the cloud by the end of 2022. Fully integrated versions with enough performance to scale to hundreds of qubits should be available in less than two years. Ultimately, Infineon and Oxford Ionics plan to offer single, fully integrated QPUs that will make hundreds of qubits available over the course of five years. They will then ‘be linked using Oxford Ionics quantum network technology to form a cluster of quantum supercomputers’.

“Infineon’s role is to scale the work of Oxford Ionics to obtain the correct qubit count and low error rate,” said Stephan Schächer, director of new applications, innovation and quantum computing, Infineon Industry Division.

Other approaches to quantum computing

According to Infineon, it offers an advanced technology platform for bespoke traps that are predictable, repeatable and reliable. Building on this platform, Infineon is paving the way for thousands of qubits by working with partners to integrate control electronics and optics with cryo support. This would allow scientists and companies to concentrate on their core tasks, push the boundaries of science and research, and develop quantum computing systems that will enable industry and research to solve important problems.

In addition to ion traps, Infineon also implements other quantum computing approaches such as semiconductor-based superconductivity and qubits. As co-founder of Quantum Technology and Application Consortium (QUTAC), Infineon supports the topic from technology to feasible application.

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