French startup Pasqal inks deal for Saudi Arabia’s first quantum computer

200-qubit machine to be the "most powerful tool deployed for industrial usages" co-founder says

French startup Pasqal inks deal for Saudi Arabia’s first quantum computer

Over the past couple of years, the Gulf states have been putting their oil money to use buying up thousands of the latest AI chips. However, thus far they have been relatively quiet when it comes to investing in quantum technology. That is now starting to change.

Yesterday, Massy-based startup Pasqal announced it had signed a deal with Saudi Arabian oil group Aramco for the installation of the first quantum computer in the country. According to the deal, Pasqal will deliver and install a 200-qubit system by the second half of 2025. 

Pasqal was founded in 2019 and currently commercialises a 100-qubit system. The company works with what are called neutral atom qubits. These use individual neutral atoms — meaning atoms that have not been ionised by removing or adding electrons — to encode quantum states. 

Neutral atoms can be extremely well isolated from their environment — for instance electro-magnetic fields — by trapping them in vacuum or optical lattices. This crucially reduces “noise” that impacts qubits and their quantum states, leading to computational errors.

They also have longer coherence times compared to other types of qubits, meaning that they can undergo more operations before errors begin to accumulate. 

According to CEO and co-founder Georges Olivier-Reymond, the 200-qubit system to be installed in Riyadh won’t be “just any quantum computer; it will be the most powerful tool deployed for industrial usages, unlocking a new era of innovation for businesses and society.”

That is a bold statement. But with another co-founder being Dr Alain Aspect, one of the Nobel Prize winners in physics 2022 “for experiments with entangled photons, establishing the violation of Bell inequalities, and pioneering quantum information science,” there could definitely be something to it. 

Will the Gulf import quantum expertise?

Aramco and Pasqal have not revealed any financial details regarding the deal. However, they have stated their intention to “establish a powerhouse for quantum research” within Saudi Arabia, where Pascal opened an office in 2023. 

The Gulf region may be waking up to a future powered by qubits (and hopefully not so much fossil fuels) — Abu Dhabi’s Technology Innovation Institute (TII) is building the Arab world’s first quantum computer, and several universities in the region have instituted quantum research projects.

However, it lacks a homegrown quantum sector. As such, we are bound to see more deals like this in the near future. Hopefully, they will involve more European startups.

As of March this year, Pascal had raised $140mn from investors including Temasek, Quantonation, BpiFrance, and the European Innovation Council (EIC). This places the company firmly among the 10 best-funded quantum startups in the world.

Three of these are European — Pasqal and Oxford Quantum Circuits ($150mn) occupy spots 10 and nine respectively, whereas Quantinuum (formed by the merger of Cambridge Quantum and Honeywell Quantum Solutions in 2021) sits in second place with $647mn in total funding, according to data from Dealroom. 

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