Atom Computing Raises $ 15 Million to Create Phoenix Quantum Computing System
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Atomic computing raised $ 15 million in funding to build its Phoenix quantum computing system. He also hired Intel director Rob Hays as CEO.
It’s a complicated machine that might one day deliver blazingly fast calculations, but it’s also reminiscent of the days of central computing, as the cooling system and accompanying hardware look like a few refrigerators stuck together.
Phoenix will be Atom Computing’s first-generation quantum computing system, based in Berkeley, Calif., Hays said in an interview with VentureBeat. Co-founder Benjamin Bloom will serve as CTO and Bill Jeffery has joined Atom’s board of directors.
“We think we have a very good approach to quantum computing which is quite unique,” Hays said. “I’m joining the company as we move from pure R&D to starting a business with R&D here. “
How Phoenix is unique
In an interview, Bloom said the company was the first to build nuclear spin qubits from an alkaline earth element. Today, the company unveiled its first-generation quantum computing system, Phoenix, as a 100-atom system with amazing stability.
“This nuclear spin qubit allows you to have consistency times that are orders and orders of magnitude greater than any other trading system like this,” Bloom said. “We write this quantum information like inside the nucleus of the atom, and it just doesn’t speak to the rest of the environment. We’re working very hard to get the information in there. But once he’s there, he just doesn’t run away.
Atom Computing’s quantum computers will use the quantum mechanical properties of atoms to process information and solve problems beyond the reach of traditional computers, including drug design, computational chemistry, and more.
Hays was most recently vice president and chief strategy officer for Lenovo’s infrastructure solutions group, where he led growth and
profitability strategy for Lenovo data center products and services. He also worked at Intel for over 20 years, where he was vice president of Intel’s Xeon processor roadmaps.
The investment comes from venture capitalists Venrock, Innovation Endeavors and Prelude Ventures. In addition, the National Science Foundation awarded three grants to the company. These investments enabled Atom Computing to assemble a team of brilliant quantum physicists and design engineers with experience in various disciplines and applications to help develop the company’s first quantum computing system. There are probably dozens of startups trying to do the same, because the stakes are high.
How quantum computing theory works
The company’s first-generation quantum computing system, Phoenix, is currently capable of trapping 100 atoms in a vacuum chamber with optical tweezers, which are very small traps for atoms. These atoms should be refrigerated to a micro Kelvin, or minus 273 degrees Celsius. It’s very cold, and that’s why there’s such a huge refrigeration system built around the computer that keeps atoms two hundred times cooler than outer space.
After manipulating the atoms in a grid, the team sends signals to and from the atoms using a complicated projector system, which sends laser pulses to the atoms to program them into states of 1, 0, or both at the same time. Atom Computing takes a piece of strontium, heats it to a very high temperature, turning it into a vapor beam that can take single atoms and cool them down to the lowest temperatures. They repeat this trick again and lower the temperature to a micro Kelvin.
The laser takes the place of a wire in a traditional computer chip. Quantum computers perform calculations based on the probability of an object’s state before it is measured. Cold keeps atoms stable for a short time, maybe 100 microseconds, but heat will eventually interfere with the qubit and produce an error.
These are like the bits of classical computers, where a transistor can be a 1 or a 0. Classical computers perform logical operations using the position of that 1 or that 0. But quantum computing can theoretically be done at a much smaller scale, with atoms doing the job for complex calculations.
In quantum computing, operations instead use the quantum state of an object to produce what is called a qubit, or quantum bit. These states are undefined properties of an object before they have been detected, such as the spin of an electron or the polarization of a photon. Rather than having a clear position, unmeasured quantum states occur in a mixed “superposition”. It has been described as a coin spinning through the air before it lands in your hand. The system expends a lot of energy to keep these positions in stable states for very short periods of time so that they can be manipulated all at once, in parallel. This parallelism makes quantum computers extremely fast, in theory.
Over the past few years, Atom Computing has turned a normal office building into a state-of-the-art optics lab, Bloom said.
Phoenix is able to rearrange and manipulate quantum states of 100 atoms at a time.
“We’re doing a kind of magic, involving lasers and RF’s that basically allow us to move single atoms at a time, almost like we’re playing a video game from the 1980s,” Bloom said. “We kind of mix the atoms together in this narrow grid. So we can create this nice regular board that a developer can program.
The system exhibits exceptionally stable large-scale qubits, with consistency times that are orders of magnitude larger than ever reported, Bloom said. In theory, if quantum computing works, it could be used to plug in special algorithms to quickly solve complex problems that would take forever on a typical computer.
“We built our first system, which allowed us to push these atoms into these really cold clouds and start seeing as one atom at a time,” Bloom said. “And that’s when we started going out and talking with people like Rob. Over the last few months we’ve basically taken this single atom and turned it into this huge array of atoms and started to manipulate them and show this new qubit that we called a nuclear spin qubit.
It could be used to crack codes or create hard-to-break security codes, or predict interactions of multiple particles in chemical reactions. Bloom was encouraged by the company’s rapid progress, which grew from 50 atoms to 100 atoms in one day.
Once the system is ready, Atom Computing will build the entire machine, including control systems, optical lasers, radio frequency circuits to control optical lasers, and it will use open source software for programming.
“We are going to start our second generation system, build it this year and make it available next year,” said Hay s.
Atom Computing has only 30 employees. And yet, it has gone quite far.
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