“This is the first time that a Dutch company has sold a photonic quantum computer,” says Jelmer Renema, technical director of Quix Quantum in Enschede. The company from Twente, which arose from the University of Twente, has only existed since 2019. It is therefore special that it has already won a large, foreign tender.
A photonic quantum computer? Let’s start with the last word. Simply put, a quantum computer is a computer that is many (many!) times faster than a ‘normal’ computer due to quantum technology.
“The principles of a quantum computer are fundamentally different from those of an ordinary computer,” says Harry Buhrman, researcher at the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI) and professor of computer science at the University of Amsterdam (UvA).
The important difference lies in the qubits, the unit of measurement. Without making it too complicated: a qubit can do several things at once, while the well-known ones and zeros of an ordinary computer can only do one thing. Hence the much higher speed of quantum computers.
“With more than 50 qubits you reach the magic limit, from a certain point the quantum computer goes so much faster than the very fastest supercomputer,” says Renema. “The computer we are building for DLR has 64 qubits.”
And then the second term: photonic. Renema: “There are different technologies for building a quantum computer. With us, information is transferred via very small light beams, which is why it is called a photonic quantum computer.” Photonics is about controlling and processing light.
Quix Quantum’s photonic quantum computer will be built in four years and will take up an entire room. Work is carried out on computers in both Enschede and Ulm, Germany. “I just can’t say exactly what we do and where, it’s a trade secret,” says Renema.
What will the German Space Agency do with the quantum computer? “Of course it’s up to them,” says Renema. “But I can imagine they’re curious about machine learning in satellites so they can improve.”
The Netherlands is the front runner
There is a worldwide competition in quantum technology, especially between Europe, China and the United States. “The Netherlands is one of the frontrunners,” says Professor Buhrman, who founded QuSoft, a research center for quantum software, in 2015.
“It’s great that Quix Quantum can enter that competition,” he says. “And it also shows how important it is that the Netherlands and Europe continue to invest in these types of companies. If you’re not careful, everything will be bought by American companies like Google and Amazon.”
Whoever builds the best quantum computer has gold on their hands. Renema: “For example, it will be possible to develop new medicines in a very efficient way.”
The quantum technology can also be used to make much better batteries for electric cars, something DLR also has in mind. “So these are things you as a consumer will notice.” However, the chance that everyone will soon have their own quantum computer at home is not great.
-269 degrees Celsius
What makes Quix Quantum’s photonic technology attractive is that their quantum computer works at room temperature. It sounds logical, but some qubit platforms only work at -269 degrees Celsius. “But each path has its advantages and disadvantages. It is not yet clear which is best,” says Buhrman.
In any case, the professor calls photons promising, as they can also be used for the ‘quantum internet’.
Renema also has high expectations for all the opportunities that will be available in the near future. “I’ve put 20 years of my life into this since I was eighteen as an undergraduate physics student. So yes, I believe quantum technology can change our lives.”