Sydney start-up Q-CTRL has launched its inaugural product – Black
Opal – which it describes as “the world’s first commercially available software
suite designed to improve the performance of quantum computing hardware”.
Quantum systems are highly susceptible to
decoherence. The states of quantum bits, or qubits, in quantum computers are
quickly randomised by interference from the environment.
Q-CTRL’s toolkit help teams design and deploy
control for their quantum hardware in order to suppress these errors.
“Quantum control has for a long time been thought of as a bit of
black art. Those of us who were deeply ingrained in it understood the
capabilities it brings, but many others would only dip their toes in the water
and that was enough,” explains Q-CTRL founder University
of Sydney Professor Michael Biercuk.
“We’re aiming to remove those barriers, remove the friction
points that have prevented teams from taking advantage of everything that’s possible,”
The controls in the toolkit were
described by Biercuk as being able to “effectively turn back the clock” on
decoherence. “So all the randomisation that occurs, unwinds; it’s like unmixing
the soup,” he told Computerworld
Q-CTRL founder Michael Biercuk
Q-CTRL launched in November 2017, the
first spin-off company of the Australia Research Council Centre of Excellence
for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQuS).
The company received financial backing from Data Collective
Venture Capital, Horizons Ventures, Main Sequence Ventures, and Sequoia Capital
and began work on Black Opal in
The product brings together a decade of academic research, coded
into Python and tied to a sleek SaaS front end. The usability and
design of the interface was central to the product’s development, Biercuk says.
“We needed to remove barriers. If I just deploy a Python package,
the activation barrier to taking advantage of all the capability and knowledge
in that can be very, very high. We knew in order to reach the most people and
have the most impact we needed to reduce those barriers. One great way to do it
is to make very complicated concepts and workflows visual and interactive,” he
“It’s a very visual product, it’s had a lot of emphasis on the
front end and the user experience,” Biercuk adds.
The 18-strong team, based at the University
of Sydney, is made up of quantum control engineers and product focused
Despite its niche use, the potential market for Black Opal
includes those who ‘just becoming quantum ready’ and learning how quantum
technologies will impact their work, conventional software developers exploring
the field, students, academics, professional quantum software engineers and
quantum hardware engineers.
While many of the major players in quantum computing will have
quantum control teams working towards similar outcomes, Black Opal provides the
same in a SaaS offering.
Black Opal at work
“The question becomes – does an organisation invest many years
and many very expensive, high-quality scientists and engineers in trying to
build up a knowledge base, learn the literature and build up a product? You can
easily imagine five people taking three years full time just becoming familiar
with the knowledge base, then building some useful internal system,” Biercuk
“We can make any team perform like they have their own in house
control engineering team without having to build one themselves,” he adds.
The SaaS model means Q-CTRL will add new features on a “roughly
weekly basis” Biercuk says. In the
coming months the team will also launch Boulder Opal, focused on automation and
integration of control solutions into professional workflows. Enterprise
versions and API access to developers are also planned.
“Black Opal helps our team directly leverage Q-CTRL’s deep
expertise in quantum control to solve some of our toughest problems building a
new class of application-specific quantum computers,” said early Q-CTRL
customer Dr Alexei Marchenkov, founder
and CEO of Bleximo, a quantum technology company based in California.
software – and its focus on high-quality visualisations – enables us to build
intuition for very complicated concepts outside of our core areas of expertise,”
April the company was given cloud-based access
to IBM’s quantum computers, as one of only eight start-ups globally to be
invited to join Big Blue’s ‘Q Network’.
Q-CTRL is one of a small but growing number of Australian
quantum technology start-ups. Adelaide is home to QxBranch
which develops custom software for quantum computers.
Australia’s ‘first quantum computing hardware
company’ – Silicon Quantum Computing – launched in Sydney in August
“After decades in the labs, it
appears that a new quantum-powered industry is emerging and we are excited to
see Q-CTRL playing a crucial role. I think we might see useful quantum computers
sooner than we had thought,” said Phil Morle, a partner at Main