Quantum computers and the processors that power them promise to efficiently solve problems that current computers can’t. If they are to be realized on a widespread and commercially-viable scale, they could dramatically change industries from automotive to finance.
While some promising advancements in this technology have already been realized, fully-functional quantum computers are still a far way off—substantial improvements in both hardware and software are still needed.
The basic components needed to run a quantum computer. Image used courtesy of The National Academies of Sciences Engineering Medicine
Now, in a bid to accelerate the realization of quantum computing, Infineon Technologies AG— known for its microcontrollers, sensors, and power semiconductors used powertrains and safety systems—has announced its participation in a research project to build quantum processors composed of superconducting qubits.
A Quantum Qubit Processor
To achieve this goal within the next four years, the project—known as the German Quantum Computer based on Superconducting Qubits (GeQCoS) project—has been awarded 14.5 million Euros by the German government. With it, the project will develop a quantum processor prototype that will consist of a few superconducting qubits with “fundamentally improved components.”
A visual representation of a quantum processor based on superconducting qubits. Image used courtesy Chris Hohmann and the Fraunhofer IAF
At the core of this technology are the basic building blocks of a quantum computer, the quantum bits (“qubits”), which are implemented by means of currents flowing without resistance in superconducting circuits. These currents are able to resist external interference and can maintain their quantum properties over long periods of time. Paired with reliable and scalable manufacturing methods, this has led to a leading quantum technology that has already been used to build the world’s first quantum processors.
The GeQCoS project plans to build on this development by improving qubit connectivity—i.e., the number of connections between individual qubits. It also aims to improve the quality of the qubits to enhance the processor’s ability to quickly produce desired quantum states.
A Processor Plane Fit for Quantum Applications
The researchers say that they are paying particular attention to the interplay between hardware and software, and one area of quantum computing hardware that is particularly challenging is building a robust processor plane to meet the complexities of quantum algorithms.
One promising approach splits the plane into two parts: 1) a classical processor that “runs” the quantum program and 2) a scalable custom hardware block that interfaces with the control and measurement plane. This second hardware block would combine the higher-level instructions that are output by the main controller with the syndrome measurements to compute the next operation to be performed on the qubits.
The major challenge here is creating scalable hardware that is fast enough.
Banding together to progress quantum computing research are scientists at the Walther Meißner Institute (WMI), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU), the Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics (IAF). Infineon is the most recent player to join.
While the company’s press release doesn’t go into detail about what its exact contribution will be, it points to Infineon’s expertise as a semiconductor manufacturer and its skill in scaling and manufacturing processes.
What we do know is that Infineon has, in the past, worked with physicists at the University of Innsbruck to create an ion-trap quantum processor. The company is believed to be collaborating with other partners to apply this quantum technology.
“Quantum computing has reached the point where we now need to translate the science into practical application,” says Sebastian Luber, Senior Director of Technology and Innovation at Infineon.
Luber goes on to acknowledge that quantum processors will require some chip-level improvements for scalable manufacturing—even on an industrial scale. “The trick is to move forward, even if it is not yet clear which technology is best suited,” he added.