This article was published on April 18, 2024

The UK’s second commercial quantum computer has launched

Rigetti and Oxford Instruments NanoScience unveil 32-qubit quantum computer system, say more to come

The UK’s second commercial quantum computer has launched

California-based quantum circuitry company Rigetti has brought a commercially available quantum computer to the UK. Only the second in the country, it was installed in collaboration with Oxford Instruments NanoScience — a cryogenics company that provides the cooling needed for superconducting qubits. 

The system, supported by grants from the UK government, is Rigetti’s first UK-based quantum computer and will be accessible via the company’s cloud computing services

When it comes to quantum computing, you need the actual circuitry hardware that hosts the qubits, advanced cryogenics systems, software to run error-correcting quantum algorithms, and specialised programming languages. And the means to put it all together. 

To that end, other participants in the £10mn program were the Quantum Software Lab at the University of Edinburgh, quantum algorithm startup Phasecraft, and Standard Chartered Bank. The project also received funding from the UK government’s Quantum Technologies Challenge, led by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI).

The 32-qubit system is housed at Oxford Instruments’ Tubney Woods facility in Oxfordshire and is what Rigetti calls its “Aspen-class” quantum computer. The system that keeps qubits from interacting with one another when they shouldn’t (one of the main sources of errors in quantum computing calculations) in this class of Rigetti computers limits the computing power and speed of the system.

However, the company says that its fourth-generation “Ankaa-1” chip architecture is three times faster than the Aspen. It intends to deploy a 24-qubit Ankaa-1 quantum computer at the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre’s  (NQCC) Harwell campus. 

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“The project was planned from the beginning to align with national strategic initiatives and is a fantastic step towards the commercial adoption of quantum computing in the UK,” said Matt Martin, managing director at Oxford Instruments NanoScience. 

Establishing quantum-ready businesses through the cloud

That a government innovation body is supporting a quantum computing project is perhaps no great surprise. But why would a bank contribute money to the project? In order to future-proof its business, as it turns out.

“Establishing ourselves as a quantum-ready financial institution is becoming more important as quantum computers scale, and our problems become more complex. An important result of this work is addressing the feasibility of quantum machine learning methods to more effectively process, interpret, and make decisions with complex data streams,” said Elena Strbac, managing director and global head of data science and innovation at Standard Chartered Bank.

Indeed, one of the first sectors anticipated to reap the benefits of quantum computing is financial services. This is because of its potential implications for security and encryption, portfolio management, and risk modelling for insurance purposes.

While we wait for quantum computers to emerge from the NISQ-era of low-utility machines, “quantum-ready” is surely a phrase we will start hearing more and more.

As quantum hardware manufacturers figure out how to scale physical qubits, and software developers how to write the best error-correction codes, researchers and businesses are training on smaller systems to learn how to best prepare for the seemingly infinite potential of the larger fault-tolerant systems of the future.

With quantum systems connected to the cloud, they don’t even need quantum capabilities of their own. They just need to pay for an interface. In the words of Roger McKinlay, challenge director for quantum technologies at Innovate UK, the vision for the program was to make the UK “the go-to place for those striving to turn quantum research into quantum business.”

Oxford University spinouts leading the UK quantum charge

As of March 19, 2024, the only other commercially available quantum computer in the UK comes from Oxford University spinout Oxford Quantum Circuits, which also offers access via the cloud to its 32-qubit system.

Oxford Instruments NanoScience was founded in 1959, and was the first commercial spinout from Oxford University. Rigetti is one of the most well-funded quantum computing startups globally, and went public in 2021. It has been operating quantum computers on the cloud since 2017. 

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