University of Sussex spin-out led consortium awarded millions to build commercial quantum computer
By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Friday, 5 November 2021
A company based in the Brighton region has received a multi-million-pound boost in the race to build a viable, commercial quantum computer
A consortium led by Universal Quantum, a University of Sussex spin-out company, has been awarded a £7.5m grant from Innovate UK’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to build a scalable quantum computer that can correct its own errors and apply this technology to high-impact problems in the aerospace industry.
The consortium will tackle a major challenge in making quantum computers commercially viable, correcting the errors that quantum bits – qubits – are prone to. It will bring together quantum experts with world-class engineers and UK businesses, creating a new quantum ecosystem for the UK and boosting the burgeoning quantum tech cluster in the Greater Brighton City Region.
The consortium comprises sector leaders covering key areas of quantum computing development. Aside from Universal Quantum, it includes world-class academic groups from the University of Sussex and Imperial College London, end-user Rolls-Royce, supported by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, quantum software developer Riverlane, supply chain partners Edwards, TMD Technologies and Diamond Microwave, and commercialisation and dissemination experts Sia Partners and Qureca.
Dr Sebastian Weidt, Co-Founder and CEO at Universal Quantum and Lecturer in Quantum Technologies at the University of Sussex, said: “Error correction is crucial to achieve anything really useful with quantum computers, so we are absolutely delighted to have been awarded this grant. This project is an important step forward, helping us to go from today’s proof of principle machines to scalable quantum computers that can solve some of the world’s most pressing computational challenges.”
Professor David Maguire, Vice Chancellor of the University of Sussex, said: “In the three years since the University partnered with Professor Winfried Hensinger and Dr Sebastian Weidt to support the launch of Universal Quantum, their ground-breaking work to build a large-scale quantum computer has attracted millions of pounds of investor funding and international interest.
“We’re delighted to see the work of this consortium of leading industry players, led by Universal Quantum, recognized and backed by Government via Innovate UK, bringing further vital investment into Brighton’s growing quantum tech sector.”
Quantum computers are highly susceptible to noise. To overcome this, the consortium will develop quantum algorithms to identify and fix these errors. However, these algorithms will eventually require thousands – potentially millions – of qubits to correct all errors and provide us with what many call the Holy Grail in quantum computing: a fault-tolerant quantum computer. So, the software also needs a quantum machine that can scale to such a large number of qubits, and this is the focus of Universal Quantum.
Professor Winfried Hensinger, Co-Founder and Chief Scientist at Universal Quantum and Director of the University of Sussex Center for Quantum Technologies, said: “Universal Quantum’s scalable approach to building quantum computers overcomes major barriers to large-scale quantum computing using trapped-ions. Instead of complex laser-based technology, we process quantum information by applying voltages to a microchip analogous to a classical transistor. Where other devices use complex photonic interconnects between quantum computing modules, we use ultra-fast electric field connections that can be orders-of-magnitude faster and rely on much simpler engineering..”
Using Universal Quantum’s scalable hardware, Riverlane, the Science and Technology Facilities Council and experts from Rolls-Royce will map a specific use case to Universal Quantum’s computer, solving a set of Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) problems in the aerospace sector.
The specific test case for this project applies to combustion modelling, which is crucial to the development of sustainable aviation fuels and next-generation jet engines. But the target algorithm and its derivatives alone are used in more than 50% of CFD calculations worldwide.
Dr Sue Baxter, Director of Innovation and Business Partnerships at the University of Sussex, says: “Quantum computers have the potential to solve some of the biggest problems we face in the world. At Sussex we’re invested in empowering our academics to translate their world-leading research into real-world solutions.
“We’re therefore delighted that the extraordinary work undertaken by Sussex’s Prof Hensinger and Dr Weidt to make their vision of a million qubit quantum computer a reality continues to attract top tier funding and industry partnerships, further putting Greater Brighton on the Quantum map.”
Innovate UK has also awarded a second grant of £6.5 million to a seven-member consortium which includes Universal Quantum, with a remit to jointly develop advanced cryogenic semiconductor IP.
Professor Hensinger added: "While Universal Quantum's machine does not need to operate close to absolute zero temperature (~0K) unlike the quantum computing approaches of many of our competitors, we will help develop control circuitry that's capable of operating at the mild cryogenic temperature of 70K needed to run the conventional control electronics inside our quantum computers more efficiently.
“With the support of semiconductor experts at sureCore, Semiwise, Synopsys and Oxford Instruments, these partnerships enable us to streamline our ASIC development work, gain key knowledge in low-temperature electronics and accelerate our development roadmap.”
Universal Quantum was founded by Professor Hensinger and Dr Weidt in 2018 as a University of Sussex spin-out company, with a mission to build the world’s first large-scale quantum computer. Prior to launching Universal Quantum, Professor Hensinger led an international team that included scientists from Google and his team at the University of Sussex, to publish the world’s first practical blueprint for how to build a large-scale quantum computer.