A quantum technology start-up based on photonics research carried out under the EU-funded BRiiGHT project has now entered the quantum computing market arena, and it’s going head-to-head with tech giants such as Google and IBM. Called ORCA Computing, the company is located at BRiiGHT project host Imperial College London’s White City Campus, where researchers, business people and the local community have joined forces to transform state-of-the-art research into real-world benefits. “With ORCA Computing, we are building a technology platform that could help lead a quantum computing revolution,” states the start-up’s co-founder Prof. Ian Walmsley in a news item posted on Imperial’s website. “As a business, we can make a major impact on the world. But the intellectual property and the resources provided by Imperial and Oxford University are crucial in supporting this. It has proven to be really valuable for the company to be located in a vibrant research and entrepreneurial community,” continues Prof. Walmsley, who worked at BRiiGHT project partner University of Oxford before joining Imperial.
The key is ORCA’s quantum memory
Using the principles of quantum physics, quantum computers are capable of performing computations that are completely out of reach of the standard computer. However, quantum computers available on the market today are noisy and hard to scale. Enter the photon – potentially the perfect building block of quantum computers – that can withstand noise and could make room temperature operation possible. Despite these advantages, processes that generate photonic qubits are random, and getting photons to interact as and when needed has been challenging until now. ORCA Computing uses its patented quantum memory to store and retrieve single photons on demand. “The race is on to get to the one million qubits that people need to run quantum software,” observes the company’s co-founder and CEO Dr Richard Murray. “We’re in this race against the big ones: Google, IBM, Amazon.” The difference in ORCA Computing’s quantum memory technology is that optical fibres and industry-standard components are used for the first time. “Information goes in at one end and you have a bunch of really fast switches that process the information as it’s passing through. As it’s flying through the optical fibre network, we’re performing very quick switching and memory and measurement in a way that performs quantum computing on the fly,” Dr Murray explains. Their approach opens the way for large, error-corrected quantum computers. “We’re quite confident that we’ve got a technology that is scalable enough to compete with those others, and at a fraction of the cost,” notes the CEO, who likens the company’s innovation process to building on quicksand. “You get one team to build one thing based on assumptions from another team. But things on the one side, say the hardware side, may become different or better, which will change the other, machine learning side. Over time your assumptions become less hypothetical and more real. This is the language of startups.” The BRiiGHT (Broadband Room-temperature Inexpensive & IndistinGuishable pHoTons) project ended in May 2020. For more information, please see: BRiiGHT project
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