Quan­tum com­put­ing

Visualisation of the qubit concept
Vi­su­al­i­sa­tion of the qubit con­cept
Credit: © Jackie Niam – stock.adob.com

Visualisation of the qubit concept

Qubits (quan­tum bits) are the ba­sic units of a quan­tum com­put­er. The qubit is the quan­tum in­for­ma­tion coun­ter­part to the bits used by con­ven­tion­al dig­i­tal com­put­ers.

Quantum computers are thought to be among the most revolutionary technologies for the future. They can carry out calculations and simulations that would take conventional computers years to complete. With them, considerable progress could be made in areas such as data and information processing with new types of quantum algorithms and encryption techniques, artificial intelligence, materials research, medicine, fundamental research in physics, chemistry and biology, in the transport and energy sectors and in the operation of satellites. But we are still a long way from quantum computers that are programmable and fault-tolerant. To date, there are no commercial quantum computers in the world that can solve economically relevant problems faster than classical computers. There are various approaches for the implementation of quantum computers for which the advantages and disadvantages have yet to be investigated. As such, it is important to continue conducting and strengthening the necessary research and development work.

Every quantum computer is based on quantum physics. Quantum physics has long been a part of our everyday lives as it forms the basis for all sorts of key technologies. Computers, smartphones, TVs, lasers, LEDs, navigation devices, lasers and magnetic resonance imaging machines are all devices that function according to the principles of quantum physics. Modern communications, data transmission and electronics in general would be inconceivable without the utilising the effects of this physics.

Quantum mechanics allows the physical processes at work on the smallest of scales to be described at the atomic level. Quantum physics enables new technologies that could lead to the emergence of entire industries. Ongoing research into quantum technologies is intended to expand upon the existing use of quantum phenomena and harness their consequences for specific, everyday applications.

One such important and far-reaching application is quantum computing. Certain elaborate calculations, in which many different conditions must be computed according to a complex, changing interplay of variables, push classical computers to their limits. But a quantum computer works differently. Its quantum bits, or qubits for short, are governed by the laws of quantum physics. Unlike the bits used by conventional digital computers, which can only take the two states 0 and 1, qubits can assume an infinite number of intermediate values. This opens the way for new algorithms that are not possible on conventional computers. Quantum objects such as electrons in semiconductor structures or superconducting loops, atoms, ions or photons can serve as qubits.

The DLR Quantum Computing Initiative

Quantum technologies have a strong scientific foundation in Germany. The fundamental knowledge required to build a quantum computer is primarily found at universities and other scientific research groups. Close collaboration between scientific research and industry is necessary to harness this knowledge.

Businesses and industry have a clear strong interest in the development of quantum computers in Germany, as this would ensure that the usage and patent rights also remain with the relevant industrial and research partners. Advances in quantum engineering in recent years have greatly improved the feasibility of quantum computers. Nevertheless, their continued development requires a concerted effort in which existing application-related expertise in quantum technology is pooled and an industrial foundation is established together with commercial partners. The Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) has provided DLR with funding to develop German quantum computers and build up this associated industrial environment. Industry, research institutions and start-ups are all involved in the initiative, under the leadership of DLR.

The initiative will develop hardware, software, applications and the necessary supply chain. In addition to the technologies that are already being pursued in Germany with the objective of creating a quantum computer (using atom or ion traps, superconducting circuits or other suitable quantum systems to serve as qubits), the new initiative will also focus on other complementary approaches.

The project will involve industrial partners, start-ups and research groups across Germany and is intended to drive the quantum technology start-up scene. Ongoing exchange with other related consortia will also be fostered at the national and European level. Hamburg and Ulm will serve as the primary innovation centres for the initiative.

Quantum technology at DLR

Two new DLR institutes have been founded in recent years specifically for research into quantum technology: the Institute of Quantum Technologies in Ulm and the Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensing in Hanover. Both institutes are involved in the BECCAL experiment (Bose-Einstein Condensate and Cold Atom Laboratory), which is conducting fundamental research into quantum sensor systems on board the International Space Station (ISS). DLR’s Galileo Competence Center in Munich works together with industry to transfer research findings relating to quantum technology to the commercial market for global satellite navigation systems (GNSS) services.

A number of other DLR institutes have also been working on software development and application analysis for quantum computers for many years. These include the Institute of Software Technology in Cologne and the Institute of Communications and Navigation in Munich. Among other topics, they address post-quantum cryptography, quantum machine learning, optimising the planning of satellite operations and the simulation of chemical redox reactions for the development of new battery systems. All the key research areas are organised with industrial applications in mind. Through its own research, DLR has identified a clear future demand for the use of quantum computers in all its focus areas – aeronautics, space, energy, transport, security and digitalisation.

The DLR institutes involved include:

Institute of Quantum Technologies
Institute for Satellite Geodesy and Inertial Sensing
Institute of Materials Research
Institute for Software Technology
Institute of Communications and Navigation
Institute of Data Science

  • Robert Axmann
    Head of De­part­ment
    Ger­man Aerospace Cen­ter (DLR)
    Pro­gramme and Strat­e­gy, Space Re­search and Tech­nol­o­gy
    Telephone: +49 2203 601-4118
    Hansestraße 115
    51149 Cologne

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