A new silicon-based quantum processor will soon be made available to a select few universities and other institutions across the US, potentially giving more researchers the opportunity to tinker with quantum computing hardware first-hand.
It is hoped that the new processor, developed by computer chipmaker Intel and offering twice the qubits of a similar component announced last year, will boost research into quantum computing and bring the technology closer to practical reality.
Although quantum computing technology has made rapid advances, devices still resemble prototypes or proofs of concept rather than practical machines, are prone to stability issues and errors, and require highly specific laboratory conditions.
Intel’s new 12-qubit quantum processing unit (QPU), dubbed Tunnel Falls, is designed to recruit scientists from around the world who want to unlock the full potential of quantum computing.
“Tunnel Falls is Intel’s most advanced silicon spin qubit chip to date and builds on the company’s decades of transistor design and manufacturing expertise,” said Jim Clarke, director of Quantum Hardware at Intel.
“The release of the new chip is the next step in Intel’s long-term strategy to build a commercial full-stack quantum computing system.”
Just as the bit is the unit of calculation in a classical computer, the qubit is fundamental to the quantum versions.
Bits represent one of two states built into sequences that can store information and perform simple logical tasks. Qubits represent complex mixtures of states. Combined or “entangled” with other qubits, these systems can be used to perform unique operations that would take a series of traditional bits impractically long to perform.
Companies like Google and IBM are taking different approaches to Intel, creating powerful versions of the technology that can be accessed remotely using software rather than distributing the hardware themselves.
By relying on QPUs that run on silicon, like the traditional processors in today’s computers, Intel hopes to ease the transition to quantum computing. Accordingly natural electronics“Silicon may be the platform with the greatest potential for delivering quantum computing at scale.”
Just as there are different ways to store binary information, there are different approaches to isolating, entangling, and reading qubits. In Intel’s chips, including Tunnel Falls, tiny structures called quantum dots trap individual electrons, which can then be used to store and read quantum information because of a property called spin.
These chips can be made with just a few modifications to Intel’s normal production lines, the company said.
That, in turn, makes them easier to manufacture than other types of qubits we’ve seen — although it’s still incredibly delicate and sophisticated technology. As more qubits are produced, Intel can share them with other researchers.
“This level of sophistication allows us to develop novel quantum operations and algorithms in the multi-qubit domain and to accelerate our learning rate in silicon-based quantum systems,” says Dwight Luhman, a senior engineer at the US Department of Energy’s Sandia National Laboratories.
Teams, including those at Sandia National Laboratories, should be able to work on improving the performance of these QPUs and reducing error rates, which is an ongoing problem in quantum computing development.
Not everyone agrees that silicon is the way forward for quantum computing, but previous research has shown that deploying quantum computing on top of components used in conventional classical computing could be a viable approach.
Different approaches may be just what we need to solve the problems of quantum computing, eventually leading to systems capable of handling daunting computational challenges far beyond what today’s machines can handle.
“Although fundamental questions and challenges remain to be solved on the way to a fault-tolerant quantum computer, the academic community can now explore this technology and accelerate research development,” says Clarke.