Quantinuum is not counting qubits in the race to error-corrected quantum computing. The new company is asking a new question: “What can we do right now with what we’ve got?”
Honeywell Quantum Solutions brings the System Model H1 to the new entity while Cambridge Quantum contributes Tket. This combination of trapped-ion quantum hardware and open-source software creates a full-stack quantum computing company that already has paying customers and users around the world. The companies announced plans to create a new company in June and regulatory approval is now complete.
Tony Uttley, president and COO of the new company, said Quantinuum is the center of gravity for the entire ecosystem.
“We will be the only truly integrated full stack quantum computing company in the world,” he said.
The company’s strategy is hardware and software agnostic, with plans to integrate other quantum software into its tech stack as well as other hardware. Uttley said Quantinuum rejects the conventional quantum wisdom that these new machines will need millions of qubits to be useful to businesses today.
“We took the exact opposite approach and asked what can we do with it today?” he said. “We have found out you can do a lot today.”
Quantinuum plans to answer the question, “What can you do for me now?” before the year is over. A cybersecurity product is in the works and will be announced before the end of the year. Ilyas Khan, CEO of the new company and founder of Cambridge Quantum, said customers will be able to use the flagship product off the shelf.
“This cybersecurity product requires nobody to change any infrastructure,” he said. “They do not need to buy a quantum computer or rent one, or go to the cloud to hire one by the hour.”
Uttley said the next product milestone in 2022 will be focused on chemistry: an enterprise software package that applies quantum computing to solve complex scientific problems in pharmaceuticals, material science, specialty chemicals and agrochemicals.
“It’s outstanding to be at this place of making quantum computing practical,” he said.
Quantinuum represents a turning point in the industry, Khan said, as 2021 will be the year quantum computing became commercially relevant.
“We’re very much in the Lotus 1-2-3 moment,” he said. “For some time to come, the industry will think about how to educate the market to differentiate either performance potential or technological advances which might in turn shorten the timeline for commercially relevant quantum compute.”
Daniel Newman, principal analyst at Futurum Research, said that Quantinuum is on the brink of launching an application that can be deployed and drive revenue today.
“It’s an application that can meet a need that isn’t currently achievable using classical computing,” he said. “I think it is still early days, and the initial idea of ‘Practical Quantum’ will take some time to fully resonate, but directionally, I do believe this shift is beginning to take shape.”
Newman predicts that the future of quantum will be heavily grounded in quantum augmenting classical computing to solve complex problems that the two cannot solve as well together.
Uttley sees the next phase as parsing out pieces of one algorithm to different quantum and/or classical hardware, such as running one part on a trapped-ion machine and another on a GPU cluster.
“That’s where the true OS development comes into play and there really is no other company that can do that,” he said.
Open-minded approach to hardware
The two leaders said that one of the new company’s goals is to support the entire quantum ecosystem, but the choice to use other quantum hardware has a practical element too. Uttley said the H1 series is at capacity with all available time being used by internal and external customers.
“We don’t have sufficient capacity if we restrict ourselves to the H1 series,” Khan said. “Also, it’s very good for us to see how other hardware companies are beginning to help us to provide diverse solutions.”
The H1 recently achieved a quantum volume of 1,024, while IBM just announced that its Eagle processor has reached 127 qubits. The H1 uses IBM’s quantum computers in addition to its own hardware.
Honeywell is a supplier for Quantinuum as well as a customer of the new company’s services. Honeywell has invested almost $300 million in the new venture and Uttley predicts that Quantinuum will attract investors who have been hesitant about investing in quantum technology.
“This new company provides an opportunity that doesn’t feel like you’re making a bet on a particular technology but more betting on the entire industry for success,” he said.
Bob Sorensen, senior vice president of research and chief analyst for quantum computing at Hyperion Research, said there is no clear winner at the moment among the numerous designs for quantum hardware, which includes superconducting qubits, trapped ions, photonics and more.
“That is exactly why this new company is stressing that their software emphasis will be hardware agnostic, so as not to force users to pick a single quantum computing implementation at this time,” he said.
Supporting open source quantum software
Quantinuum will sell software products under the Cambridge Quantum brand.
“We’ve got 100,000 of users of tket and customers who rely on Cambridge Quantum Computing and we don’t want to lose sight of that,” Khan said.
Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president of Constellation Research, Inc., said the higher innovation and transparency of open source applies to quantum software development just as it does with traditional software engineering.
“Open source has won on an IaaS level and most of PaaS,” he said. “Quantum is no exception and open source based platforms and framework will be key for quantum as well.”
Newman said this approach ensures the portability of applications to maintain value in their development efforts even if a certain quantum platform doesn’t wind up being the preferred platform. The cloud is a good example of why portability will matter.
“As organizations want to move workloads to different infrastructure, open source can be a great means to accomplish that,” he said. “Also, open source provides more opportunities to democratize quantum application development and enable the developer community to innovate and develop more powerful applications.”
Quantinuum has about 400 employees with researchers and engineers making up about 80% of that group. The company’s software headquarters will remain in Europe with the hardware HQ in Broomfield, Colorado.