The goal is clear – the development of quantum computers in Germany and Europe. It is an area that research centres and universities, industrial enterprises and start-ups are working on. Their areas of focus vary; some are looking at the hardware or software, others are focusing more on the fundamental principles or even the applications. Cooperation already exists. To further strengthen the networking of all those taking part, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has set up the Quantum Computing Exchange Forum.
"Quantum computing technology promises to bring great benefit to numerous areas of our industry, the economy and society. We will coordinate activities and at the same time share our ideas," says Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Chair of the DLR Executive Board. "With such a major, disruptive topic as quantum computing, bringing together knowledge across disciplinary and organisational boundaries is essential. Together with our partners from industry, science, research and public authorities, we can realise the potential, continue its development and make it commercially viable. This is how we can contribute to the process of moving together from fundamental principles to an industrial quantum ecosystem."
More than 100 participants from research communities, universities, start-ups, government ministries, public authorities and trade associations took part in the first virtual meeting of the forum. In addition to the Forschungszentrum Jülich, the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the DLR Institute for Software Technology, the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics and IBM presented their current developments and plans for the future. DLR also presented its Quantum Computing Initiative, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (Bundesministerium für Wirtschaft und Energie; BMWi).
Different concepts for qubits
The presentations, questions and subsequent discussions included consideration of the transfer of research results to industry. Other areas of focus included: what possibilities do hybrid systems, which combine quantum computers with conventional computers, offer? How can the most error-free possible quantum computers be realised? In what way will the qubits be created? All quantum computers work with qubits, which obey the laws of quantum physics. The bits of conventional computers recognise only two states: 0 and 1. Qubits on the other hand assume an infinite number of intermediate values. There are different concepts for the production of these special memory components that make quantum computers so powerful. These include ion traps, superconducting systems and semiconductors. But variants such as Majorana qubits, whose practical implementation is still some way off, are also the subject of research.
Quantum computers require an entirely new type of software. This can only be created in close cooperation with the hardware experts. This principle of hardware-software codesign was also considered at the exchange forum. Some researchers recalled the development of conventional supercomputers in the 1980s. A number of challenges were solved simultaneously at that time too. Now supercomputers (HPC, High Performance Computing) are helping with the simulation and testing of complex quantum systems. They are, however, reaching their limits.
Major benefits for industry, the economy and society
Quantum computers will, for example, implement optimisations in the area of transport or logistics, simulate new material structures and improve machine learning. They will also make new applications in cybersecurity and communications possible. The Quantum Computing Exchange Forum will be an annual event in future.
DLR's Quantum Computing Initiative
DLR initiative is aiming for the construction of prototype quantum computer variants and their components. It will develop potential applications for scientific, economic and security-related issues within four years. Together with partners, DLR will build up an industrial base and establish two innovation centres in Hamburg and Ulm. The partners will usually be involved through fully financed contracts. The BMWi is providing DLR with 740 million euros over the next few years. The BMWi and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung; BMBF) will be funding quantum technologies with a total of approximately two billion euros.
Two new institutes specialising in quantum technologies
The DLR Institute for Software Technology carried its first experiments with an early quantum computer in 2014. Even then there was close cooperation with research institutions and industry. DLR has recently opened the Institute of Quantum Technologies in Ulm and the Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensing in Hanover. They both specialise in quantum effects. Other institutes are involved – there is a great need for the use of quantum computers in their own research, in the fields of aeronautics, space, energy, transport, security and digitalisation. Currently, for example, DLR is working with the IBM Q System One quantum computer at the Fraunhofer Competence Center near Stuttgart to simulate atomic processes in batteries.