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PsiQuantum Develops Optical Qubits

August 17, 2021

Author: Linley Gwennap

Current quantum computers have fewer than 100 qubits and are so unreliable that they can operate for only dozens of cycles at a time, preventing them from performing any useful calculations. PsiQuantum’s goal is to build a system with enough error correction to run for millions of cycles, which would enable molecular simulations and factoring of large numbers, among other real-world tasks. Such a large system requires a manufacturable and scalable design that’s reliable and largely self-contained. To get there, the company is collaborating with GlobalFoundries to build optical qubits that operate at a balmy temperature of 4 kelvin (K), avoiding many of the problems with more-common quantum designs.

Investors have bought into the story. Last month, PsiQuantum announced a huge $450 million Series D round, bringing total funding to $665 million. Rather than traditional venture-capital firms, two giant asset-management companies—BlackRock and Baillie Gifford—provided most of the new money, along with M12 (Microsoft’s venture arm). Since its founding in 2016, PsiQuantum has grown to more than 100 employees, most in Silicon Valley, and the new funding will enable further growth.

Achieving its ambitious goal will take considerable time. The company expects to establish all the necessary manufacturing processes by the middle of this decade, then build and debug the first system sometime afterward. Working with GlobalFoundries, it has fabricated numerous test chips, mainly for single-photon emitters and detectors. These chips employ the fab’s standard optical manufacturing but currently require additional equipment and process steps. Even with expected advances, the final system will likely require one million physical qubits and thousands of chips.

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