D-Wave wants more real-world deployments for its quantum computer

D-Wave is ready to move its quantum computer out of limited use and into more real-world deployments.

Quantum computing has been researched for decades and D-Wave deployed what was considered the first such computer in 2011. A handful of D-Wave’s quantum computers are now being used by Google, NASA and Lockheed Martin for artificial intelligence, image recognition and machine learning.

D-Wave now has a pipeline of government, commercial and intelligence customers waiting for the company’s faster quantum computers, which will start rolling out later this year, said CEO Vern Brownell.

The company will release faster processors over the next two years that will be central to the new quantum computers, Brownell said. The company currently offers the D-Wave Two, which financial analyst firm Sterne Agee in March estimated had a list price “north of $10 million.”

D-Wave last week received US$28 million in funding from new and existing investors, including Goldman Sachs and BDC Capital. The investment will be used to boost internal software development efforts, but there is room for more funding, Brownell said. The goal is to take the company public in a few years, Brownell said.

Quantum computing is based on the theories of quantum mechanics, which looks at the interaction and behavior of matter on atomic and subatomic levels. Conventional computers store data in 1s or 0s, but quantum computers take a different approach. Central to quantum computers are quantum bits (qubits), which can store data in 0s, 1s and in both states. As a result, computers are able to do more calculations simultaneously.

D-Wave’s computer, which is on the model of quantum annealing, delivers a set of possible outcomes to solve a particular problem after a magnetic field is deployed to perform qubit and multi-qubit operations.

D-Wave has 1,152-qubit chips in its lab right now, and hopes to double that to a 2,000-qubit processor next year, Brownell said.

The company is also building a software stack to work with the qubit chips. The company is adding software engineers and developers, and has already built a compiler.

D-Wave’s quantum computer won’t replace conventional computers, Brownell said, but could find practical use in areas including financial services, where risk analysis, modeling and projections could be calculated based on specific software models. It could also be used for large-scale problem-solving and optimization in areas such as supply chains, transportation and logistics, Brownell said.

Researchers have said quantum computers could ultimately outperform today’s fastest computers in targeted calculations. Google has supported that notion, saying D-Wave’s quantum computer is faster than conventional computers in solving specific problems.

But the D-Wave computer has generated debate among scientists and academics, who for decades have been trying to resolve challenges tied to mechanics behind such systems. Researchers at Microsoft and universities have said D-Wave’s computer exhibits the behavior of a quantum computer, though IBM and others have argued otherwise.

IBM last week said it is investing $3 billion over the next five years to build new types of systems, including quantum and cognitive computers, and Microsoft is researching quantum computing based on a new particle.

D-Wave’s quantum computer is based on research that emerged in 2000 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The company remains engaged with the academic community, and so far 70 peer-reviewed science papers have been published on the company’s technology.

“The people who understand what we’re doing—Google, Lockheed—recognize it’s true science,” Brownell said. “We wanted to put something useful in the hands of people as quickly as possible.”

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