VTT recently declared the completion of Finland’s second quantum computer, which utilizes 20 superconducting qubits. The achievement, executed in conjunction with IQM Quantum Computers, represents another step towards constructing a 50-qubit machine by the conclusion of 2024.
The government initiated the project called “The Finnish quantum computer development action” in November 2020, with a total budget exceeding €20.7m, with the ultimate goal of building a 50-qubit machine by the end of 2024. The completion of the first quantum computer, using five qubits, took place in 2021. Subsequently, the second one, with 20 qubits, was finished in October 2023, keeping the country on track to have a 50-qubit machine by the end of 2024. Additionally, considering the progress made, the Finnish government has increased its objectives. It now aims to develop a 300-qubit machine, resulting in an augmented budget of €70m. Researchers anticipate achieving quantum supremacy using the 300-qubit machine.
The newly developed 20-qubit quantum computer is situated in the same location as the five-qubit system, in Espoo, in the southern part of Finland at the VTT division of Micronova, the national research infrastructure for micro and nanotechnology. The 20-qubit machine acts as a technology demonstrator to acquire more knowledge about the required methods to scale up to 50 qubits.
Illustrating progress and acquiring knowledge during the process
The two quantum computers developed in Finland so far are based on superconducting qubits. This choice of technology stems mainly from the longstanding tradition of research in superconductivity within the country – VTT has been involved in superconducting sensors since the 1990s.
“There are various alternatives,” stated Pekka Pursula, research manager, microelectronics and quantum technologies, at VTT. “This includes ions, atoms, and photonic quantum computers. Each of these possesses relative advantages. However, at present, the superconducting platform demonstrates the most advanced scalability in terms of the number and quality of qubits, as well as control and other factors. Nevertheless, it remains uncertain which technology will efficiently deliver quantum advantage in the long run.”
VTT and IQM have thus far gained new insights at each stage of development. These insights have enabled them to make enhancements and elevate their ambitions. One of the major discoveries with the five-qubit machine was how to connect it to the LUMI supercomputer and utilize a hybrid setup to allocate certain tasks from a supercomputer to a quantum device.
They also figured out the transition from a 2D architecture to a more complex 3D arrangement, particularly given that the qubits must be maintained at extremely low temperatures. Maintaining the qubits in a cold state necessitates the placement of cooling elements in precise locations, which becomes more challenging when components are stacked rather than placed side by side.
“In a five-qubit QPU [quantum processing unit], all control and read-out lines to all qubits can be routed in 2D, so all qubits have access to the edge of the QPU,” explained Pekka. “This is not the case in a 20-qubit system. A 3D superconducting integration process is required to bring the control and read-out lines to all qubits. We have developed this process and have now successfully demonstrated its functionality.”
VTT and IQM are conducting benchmark tests on their 20-qubit device, comparing its performance in solving well-known problems against traditional simulations run on supercomputers. They are also making comparisons with other quantum computers worldwide. One of the main challenges with quantum devices lies in their inherent noise. Even with sophisticated error-correction algorithms, no two quantum computers behave in exactly the same way, as each qubit possesses unique behavior and error rates. Pursula mentioned that the 20-qubit machine has performed extremely well in this regard, stating, “The measured median fidelities are 99.91% for single-qubit gates and 98.25% for two-qubit gates.”
“We all know that IBM already has 433 qubits, and there are several others with higher qubit counts,” Pursula acknowledged. “However, in quantum computing, it is not solely about the number of qubits. Quality and speed are also integral. In these aspects, we hold our ground when compared to the competition. Additionally, in Europe, few 20-qubit devices exist. We expect that next year our 50-qubit device will be one of the largest on the continent.”
Aspiring for the third position globally
“Quantum supremacy was demonstrated by Google with 53 qubits, but there is much debate surrounding that, so I cannot guarantee supremacy with our 50-qubit machine,” stated Pursula.
However, once Finland possesses a 300-qubit quantum computer, it will likely be capable of solving practical problems. Researchers anticipate utilizing it for solving problems in materials science, enabling faster molecular simulations compared to traditional computers. They also hope to employ it for solving optimization issues, employing a hybrid computing approach that involves transferring tasks from a supercomputer to the quantum computer. Pursula mentioned, “Whether quantum utility can be achieved with hundreds, thousands, or any other number of qubits, the hybrid approach will be necessary.”
What specific position can Finland realistically expect to hold within the broader ecosystem as quantum computers become a reality? Only time will tell. Pursula asserts that Finland aims to be among the world’s top three countries in this field.
“The field is still in its early stages,” he stated. “And let’s not forget that small countries can produce significant players, just like Nokia. The limited available resources need to be focused on the best opportunities. In this context, I observe an outstanding opportunity that aligns with Finland’s longstanding scientific background in superconductors, along with the innovative mindset and can-do attitude of its people.”
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