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Rigetti and Phasecraft begin work on UK’s ‘first commercial quantum computer’

The Californian computing startup Rigetti is joining forces with British businesses to develop its first quantum computer outside of the US.

Ministers hope the the £10m project will give rise to the UK’s first commercially available quantum machine and demonstrate to industry the benefits of the emerging technology.

Part funded by the government, the project, which is being led by Rigetti, includes quantum experts at Edinburgh University and the London software start-up Phasecraft. The bank Standard Chartered and the manufacturing firm Oxford Instruments have also joined the consortium.

Unveiling the project as part of London Tech Week, ministers cited research predicting that by 2024, the technology will provide £4bn of economic opportunities globally – a figure expected to rise to £341bn in “the coming decades”.

The government believes the technology could have the greatest impact in pharmaceuticals, aerospace and transport, and, alongside its funding commitment to the Rigetti project, is investing £93m in a National Quantum Computing Centre.

Commenting on the launch of the consortium, Chad Rigetti (pictured), Rigetti Computing’s CEO, said: “We are excited to deliver the UK’s first quantum computer and help accelerate the development of practical algorithms and applications.

“By providing access to quantum hardware, the collaboration aims to unlock new capabilities within the thriving UK ecosystem of quantum information science researchers, start-ups, and enterprises who have already begun to explore the potential impact of quantum computing.”

While conventional computers rely on bits, which exist in one of two positions, quantum computers seek to harness a quirk of quantum mechanics that means, before an object is measured, it can exist in two locations at once. By doing so, advocates of the technology believe they will be able to process dramatically more data.

Last year, Google researchers published a paper that they claimed showed they had achieved quantum supremacy – the ability to process information that would take a classical computer an impractically long time. But IBM, which has also entered the quantum computing race, cast doubt on the claim, saying its super computer could have completed the same task in three days, rather than the 10,000 years Google said it would. Google’s engineers, in turn, challenged whether IBM’s was capable of finishing the process so quickly.

Realising quantum supremacy “is not a one-horse race”

Speaking to NS Tech, Dr Graeme Malcolm, CEO and co-founder of M Squared, a developer of photonic and quantum technologies based in Glasgow, welcomed the news of the Rigetti project. “It is essential that in the UK we are leveraging our national excellence in this field from our university base, advanced manufacturing pedigree, research expertise and a focus from central government to scale quantum technologies.”

But he added: “It should be highlighted that realising quantum supremacy is not a one-horse race. Tackling a scientific problem of this scale will require the UK to bring together quantum stakeholders across the country, but also be open to international collaboration, closely aligned with the work that is happening in the US and across Europe, and commercially invest on the scale required to make progress.”