ColdQuanta – Life in Quantum’s Slow (and Cold) Lane Heats Up

By John Russell

April 23, 2020

Work using cold atoms to leverage quantum effects for useful applications isn’t new. Think, for example, of atomic clocks and various sensing devices. But putting them to work as qubits in quantum computing is a relatively new idea. While ions have gained most of the attention here, one company, ColdQuanta, believes that using cold, neutral atoms (and Bose-Einstein condensate (BEC) effects) will end up being a much better approach that permits scaling to many thousands of qubits even while we are still in the so-called NISQ (noisy intermediate scale quantum) computing era.

DARPA seems to think there’s a fair chance that ColdQuanta is right and two weeks ago awarded the 13-year-old company a grant[I] to “develop a scalable, cold-atom-based quantum computing hardware and software platform that can demonstrate quantum advantage on real-world problems.” Currently, many qubit technologies are battling for sway – superconducting, optical, ion trap (also individual atoms, but charged), silicon spin, and a non-abelian anion. All of them have strengths and weaknesses.

Bo Ewald, ColdQuanta

“Over the next 40 months,” said Bo Ewald, ColdQuanta’s relatively new CEO. “We believe that we can scale this technology up and end up with a system that has thousands of qubits of pretty good fidelity, better connectivity, and more complicated gates than other approaches. By the end of the 40 months [length of the grant] we would be able to run this DoD real-world optimization problem as part of the program. It’s a radar coverage optimization problem.”

Ewald is a familiar figure in the quantum community. He was president of quantum pioneer D-Wave Systems for six years. While D-Wave’s quantum annealing technology approach has occasionally drawn mixed reviews, the company has nevertheless sold many machines, albeit research instruments, to industry and government. Ewald joined ColdQuanta roughly one year ago (March 2019).

Part of what makes the ColdQuanta so interesting is its breadth of aspiration. The company says its core technology has applications in everything from accelerometers, spoof-proof GPS devices, RF sensors, stealth communications, and much more. Quantum computing is just the most recent, and given the times, perhaps now the most visible initiative. In fact, ColdQuanta has been a supplier of a variety of quantum instruments and systems (including ion traps) for years. Two recent POC demonstrations of its cold atom (BEC) expertise went to the International Space Station – they include NASA/JPL’s Cold Atom Laboratory, CAL1 (2018) and CAL2 (2019), projects to test quantum matter behavior in space.

All qubit technologies have problems. One strength of using single atoms of the same element for a qubit is that by definition the qubits are identical. Also, neutral atoms, because they lack a charge, can be brought closer together more easily. The latter makes it easier to induce an interaction between outer shell (valence) electrons putting two atoms into “superposed state” to act as qubits. ColdQuanta leverages BEC characteristics and lasers to accomplish this.

Here’s a brief description from Ewald: “If you had a cloud of atoms of all of the same element, and you could cool them enough, very close to absolute zero, they would create a new form of matter. As you got them near absolute zero, they would coalesce into the Bose-Einstein condensate (some people describe this as a quantum gas). Steve Chu (MIT, later U.S. Secretary of Energy) showed in the 90s how you could use lasers to control atoms and won the Nobel Prize for it (physics, 1997). A laser has energy and mass and you can use it to hammer atoms and put tremendous force on the atoms, thousands of G’s of force on the atoms. In doing that, you can cause them to slow down or stop their motion. In your room, for example, atoms are moving around at around 600 miles an hour.”

“Researchers from the University of Colorado (CU) and from MIT followed up Chu’s work and demonstrated that if you created a highly-evacuated chamber and put atoms, thousands to a million atoms, of the same element in it, and then used lasers shining through windows in the chamber, you could stop the motion of the atoms enough that you would get them very near absolute zero. And bingo, they coalesce into this new quantum matter.”

Another CU researchers, Dana Anderson, went on to form ColdQuanta where he is now CTO. The original idea was to build laboratory equipment and systems to let people around the world build their own devices to create and manipulate quantum matter (BEC). This the company has done successfully.

“It turns out that if you don’t go quite as far as creating quantum matter (BEC), you can use the same basic idea and use a highly-evacuated glass, we’ll call it a cube, and put thousands to millions of atoms into it, and you can actually control those atoms, either as a cloud or on an individual basis,” said Ewald.

This is what ColdQuanta does. You need the right kind of element – one with favorable valence electrons. “You tend to use elements on the left side of the periodic table, so rubidium, for example, and cesium and others,” said Ewald. Under the right laser pressure, ‘lower energy’ wells are created, and it is possible to place atoms in the wells in an orderly configuration, and cause interaction (electron sharing) between atoms in neighboring wells. Currently, ColdQuanta is able to demonstrate at least 10×10 lattices with up to 100 qubits and the current technology should be possible to scale up to about 100×100 with up to 10,000 qubits. Ewald says next steps are to control a larger number of quantum logic gates.

This enhanced connectivity is a strength versus ion trap technology, where ions acting as qubits are typically aligned as a string of pearls. IonQ, an early pioneer using ion trap technology, has demonstrated lining up 13 ions of which 11 are functional. “I think there’s complete connectivity between those ions, but it’s a linear approach,” said Ewald who suggested that approach may be limited to 50 to 100 ions.

Both neutral atoms and ions boast longer coherence times than superconducting qubits but somewhat slower gate speeds. Also it’s worth mentioning that ion trap systems seem further along in development.

One of the cool things about the neutral atom approach is you don’t need the exotic refrigerators required by superconducting-based quantum computers. “That’s one of the great things about this technology. The lasers stop the motion of the atoms within this little glass cell, and so within the glass cell you’re very near absolute zero – you’re in the nano-Kelvin or micro-Kelvin range. But right outside the glass cell, it’s the ambient temperature. You don’t need a big cryostat. You know, you don’t need a dilution refrigerator. The cooling is really done by physics,” said Ewald.

Many challenges remain. For example, although the neutral atoms don’t repel each other as ions do they can drop out of position fairly easily. Said Ewald, “We have an atom tweezer that we’re working on. Suppose that we create this array of atoms and we’re missing one atom. We’re working on technology where you can effectively pick up an individual atom from the pool an insert it into the lattice if we’re missing one. So there’s a lot of work to be done, but my point is that our control over atoms is so fine that we can manipulate individual atoms.”

Ewald described the likely forthcoming ColdQuanta system as being comprised of a 3x3x3-foot cube housing the quantum part of the system – so fairly small – along with a few racks of traditional systems and electronics to control the lasers, etc. He estimated the system will require on the order of 10Kv.

A quantum computer BEC-based machine, of course, has still not been released; Ewald suggested one will be relatively soon with broader availability via the web perhaps in the fall.

The company, not surprisingly, will build its own low-level programming tools and environment, but emphasizes the plan is to work with the rapidly growing open source and commercial quantum software ecosystem. Access to the systems will likely include web-based access and perhaps sales of systems to customers.

It is clearly still early days for ColdQuanta’s quantum computing efforts.

As for near-term milestones, Ewald said “The two biggest visible milestones so far were the two launches of our technology on to space station. That proved the ruggedness of our technology. On the quantum computing side, the DARPA award is very significant for us. I think over the course of the next year or so, we should be able to demonstrate the technology at least starting to approach a hundred or so qubits that function and that you can do something with. Then over the next three years as part of the program, we [expect] to be getting into the thousands of qubits.”

Link to Ewald presentation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrEb0SQHdbY&feature=emb_rel_end

[i]Others on the grant include defense contractor Raytheon Technologies, Wisconsin–Madison, Argonne National Laboratory, University of Chicago, NIST Gaithersburg, University of Colorado Boulder, University of Innsbruck, and Tufts University.

Feature image: ColdQuanta hexagonal vacuum cell

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Nvidia Aims Clara Healthcare at Drug Discovery, Imaging via DGX

April 12, 2021

Nvidia Corp. continues to expand its Clara healthcare platform with the addition of computational drug discovery and medical imaging tools based on its DGX A100 platform, related InfiniBand networking and its AGX develop Read more…

Nvidia Serves Up Its First Arm Datacenter CPU ‘Grace’ During Kitchen Keynote

April 12, 2021

Today at Nvidia’s annual spring GPU technology conference, held virtually once more due to the ongoing pandemic, the company announced its first ever Arm-based CPU, called Grace in honor of the famous American programmer Grace Hopper. Read more…

Nvidia Debuts BlueField-3 – Its Next DPU with Big Plans for an Expanded Role

April 12, 2021

Nvidia today announced its next generation data processing unit (DPU) – BlueField-3 – adding more substance to its evolving concept of the DPU as a full-fledged partner to CPUs and GPUs in delivering advanced computi Read more…

Nvidia’s Newly DPU-Enabled SuperPOD Is a Multi-Tenant, Cloud-Native Supercomputer

April 12, 2021

At GTC 2021, Nvidia has announced an upgraded iteration of its DGX SuperPods, calling the new offering “the first cloud-native, multi-tenant supercomputer.” The newly announced SuperPods come just two years after the Read more…

Tune in to Watch Nvidia’s GTC21 Keynote with Jensen Huang – Recording Now Available

April 12, 2021

Join HPCwire right here on Monday, April 12, at 8:30 am PT to see the Nvidia GTC21 keynote from Nvidia’s CEO, Jensen Huang, livestreamed in its entirety. Hosted by HPCwire, you can click to join the Huang keynote on our livestream to hear Nvidia’s expected news and... Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Volkswagen Passenger Cars Uses NICE DCV for High-Performance 3D Remote Visualization

 

Volkswagen Passenger Cars has been one of the world’s largest car manufacturers for over 70 years. The company delivers more than 6 million automobiles to global customers every year, from 50 production locations on five continents. Read more…

The US Places Seven Additional Chinese Supercomputing Entities on Blacklist

April 8, 2021

As tensions between the U.S. and China continue to simmer, the U.S. government today added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to an economic blacklist. The U.S. Entity List bars U.S. firms from supplying key technolog Read more…

Nvidia Serves Up Its First Arm Datacenter CPU ‘Grace’ During Kitchen Keynote

April 12, 2021

Today at Nvidia’s annual spring GPU technology conference, held virtually once more due to the ongoing pandemic, the company announced its first ever Arm-based CPU, called Grace in honor of the famous American programmer Grace Hopper. Read more…

Nvidia Debuts BlueField-3 – Its Next DPU with Big Plans for an Expanded Role

April 12, 2021

Nvidia today announced its next generation data processing unit (DPU) – BlueField-3 – adding more substance to its evolving concept of the DPU as a full-fle Read more…

Nvidia’s Newly DPU-Enabled SuperPOD Is a Multi-Tenant, Cloud-Native Supercomputer

April 12, 2021

At GTC 2021, Nvidia has announced an upgraded iteration of its DGX SuperPods, calling the new offering “the first cloud-native, multi-tenant supercomputer.” Read more…

Tune in to Watch Nvidia’s GTC21 Keynote with Jensen Huang – Recording Now Available

April 12, 2021

Join HPCwire right here on Monday, April 12, at 8:30 am PT to see the Nvidia GTC21 keynote from Nvidia’s CEO, Jensen Huang, livestreamed in its entirety. Hosted by HPCwire, you can click to join the Huang keynote on our livestream to hear Nvidia’s expected news and... Read more…

The US Places Seven Additional Chinese Supercomputing Entities on Blacklist

April 8, 2021

As tensions between the U.S. and China continue to simmer, the U.S. government today added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to an economic blacklist. The U Read more…

Habana’s AI Silicon Comes to San Diego Supercomputer Center

April 8, 2021

Habana Labs, an Intel-owned AI company, has partnered with server maker Supermicro to provide high-performance, high-efficiency AI computing in the form of new Read more…

Intel Partners Debut Latest Servers Based on the New Intel Gen 3 ‘Ice Lake’ Xeons

April 7, 2021

Fresh from Intel’s launch of the company’s latest third-generation Xeon Scalable “Ice Lake” processors on April 6 (Tuesday), Intel server partners Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo simultaneously unveiled their first server models built around the latest chips. And though arch-rival AMD may... Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

CERN Is Betting Big on Exascale

April 1, 2021

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) involves 23 countries, 15,000 researchers, billions of dollars a year, and the biggest machine in the worl Read more…

Programming the Soon-to-Be World’s Fastest Supercomputer, Frontier

January 5, 2021

What’s it like designing an app for the world’s fastest supercomputer, set to come online in the United States in 2021? The University of Delaware’s Sunita Chandrasekaran is leading an elite international team in just that task. Chandrasekaran, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, recently was named... Read more…

HPE Launches Storage Line Loaded with IBM’s Spectrum Scale File System

April 6, 2021

HPE today launched a new family of storage solutions bundled with IBM’s Spectrum Scale Erasure Code Edition parallel file system (description below) and featu Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Saudi Aramco Unveils Dammam 7, Its New Top Ten Supercomputer

January 21, 2021

By revenue, oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world, and it has historically employed commensurate amounts of supercomputing Read more…

Quantum Computer Start-up IonQ Plans IPO via SPAC

March 8, 2021

IonQ, a Maryland-based quantum computing start-up working with ion trap technology, plans to go public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) merger a Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Can Deep Learning Replace Numerical Weather Prediction?

March 3, 2021

Numerical weather prediction (NWP) is a mainstay of supercomputing. Some of the first applications of the first supercomputers dealt with climate modeling, and Read more…

Livermore’s El Capitan Supercomputer to Debut HPE ‘Rabbit’ Near Node Local Storage

February 18, 2021

A near node local storage innovation called Rabbit factored heavily into Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s decision to select Cray’s proposal for its CORAL-2 machine, the lab’s first exascale-class supercomputer, El Capitan. Details of this new storage technology were revealed... Read more…

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

African Supercomputing Center Inaugurates ‘Toubkal,’ Most Powerful Supercomputer on the Continent

February 25, 2021

Historically, Africa hasn’t exactly been synonymous with supercomputing. There are only a handful of supercomputers on the continent, with few ranking on the Read more…

The History of Supercomputing vs. COVID-19

March 9, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a greater challenge to the high-performance computing community than any before. HPCwire's coverage of the supercomputing response t Read more…

HPE Names Justin Hotard New HPC Chief as Pete Ungaro Departs

March 2, 2021

HPE CEO Antonio Neri announced today (March 2, 2021) the appointment of Justin Hotard as general manager of HPC, mission critical solutions and labs, effective Read more…

AMD Launches Epyc ‘Milan’ with 19 SKUs for HPC, Enterprise and Hyperscale

March 15, 2021

At a virtual launch event held today (Monday), AMD revealed its third-generation Epyc “Milan” CPU lineup: a set of 19 SKUs -- including the flagship 64-core, 280-watt 7763 part --  aimed at HPC, enterprise and cloud workloads. Notably, the third-gen Epyc Milan chips achieve 19 percent... Read more…

Microsoft, HPE Bringing AI, Edge, Cloud to Earth Orbit in Preparation for Mars Missions

February 12, 2021

The International Space Station will soon get a delivery of powerful AI, edge and cloud computing tools from HPE and Microsoft Azure to expand technology experi Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire