From science fiction to science facts: quantum computers are considered to be one of the most important technological breakthroughs – and researchers from Lower Saxony want to advance the new technology with sums of billions. More than 1.5 billion euros should flow into quantum technology by 2030, announced the Lower Saxony research association “Quantum Valley Lower Saxony”. According to this, the first quantum computer by the researchers from Hanover and Braunschweig is to be put into operation by 2025 – and a first prototype is already being tested.
Billions in funding
On the way to commercial use of the new technology, Google and IBM are considered leaders, but Amazon is also working on a quantum computer. In order not to be too dependent on US providers, the federal government released two billion euros for the development of quantum computers. The Lower Saxony project is to be financed from this and other funds from research and industry. Quantum computers can solve certain tasks much faster and more efficiently than classic computers – for example, they can evaluate and process data for telephony more quickly, said the Lower Saxony Minister of Science Björn Thümler.
Science and industry are dependent on computer capacities that can cope with ever more complex computing operations in an ever shorter period of time, said the CDU politician. With the help of the association, “science fiction should become science facts”. The research alliance should create the “leap into the top of the world in quantum computer development,” as the President of the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt involved, Prof. Joachim Ullrich, said. “The first steps have been taken,” said the President of Leibniz University Hanover, Prof. Volker Epping.
So-called ion trap technology is likely to be decisive here: quantum computing with trapped ions means that ions, i.e. charged atoms, are used as the basic computing unit of the computer – an ion is a qubit. With the help of electrical fields, ions are captured, controlled by microwave signals and read out by laser. Prof. Christian Ospelkaus from the Institute for Quantum Optics at Leibniz University showed an ion trap, a two-qubit chip the size of a microchip – basic arithmetic operations are already there. Different electrical voltages held the ions above the surface.
However, all existing quantum computers are “basically just demonstration computers”, explained Ospelkaus. And: One should not only look at the qubit number, but also at the quality of the arithmetic operations. Google currently has an error rate of one percent, but the error correction only works at a rate below 0.01 percent. The Lower Saxony association is 0.1 percent and is close to the threshold. Ion traps are not only small, but could also enable quantum processors to operate at room temperature.
Commercialization of quantum computers
According to Verbund, the path to commercialization is difficult. The “Quantum Valley Lower Saxony”, however, covers semiconductor and laser technology as well as the programming of quantum algorithms and software for artificial intelligence. In the Federal Institute’s clean room center, prototypes of the ion traps could be produced; the Technical University of Braunschweig, for example, has developed quantum sensors for a new and highly sensitive rapid corona test. In the future, a whole ecosystem with algorithms and software should be offered – but first the plan is to sell computing time, said Prof. Piet Schmidt from the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt.
According to the Minister, the potential of the new technology is “huge” and an “absolute must” for the economy. He called for more money for research. Schmidt emphasized, however, that classic computers will not replace the supercomputer, that “Windows will never run on them”.