Honeywell Debuts Quantum System, ‘Subscription’ Business Model, and Glimpse of Roadmap

By John Russell

October 29, 2020

After outlining its ambitious plans to jump into the quantum computing fray last spring, Honeywell today introduced is first quantum computer roughly on schedule, the System Model H1, which features 10 fully-connected qubits and has a quantum volume (QV) rating of 128. QV is a performance metric developed by IBM and the QV of 128 is the highest yet reported. IBM’s highest rated systems are QV 64.

Honeywell is betting big on trapped-ion qubit technology as various qubit technologies compete for sway. The trapped-ion approach depends upon manipulating single atoms (ions); the ions are inherently identical and, among other things, are somewhat less susceptible to the “noise” that effects all quantum systems. Trapped-ion qubits, for example, tend to have longer coherence times but also have longer switching times.

The majority of quantum systems being developed today use semiconductor-based superconducting qubits and requires near-zero (Kelvin) temps. Among the leaders there include IBM, Google, and Rigetti Systems. Honeywell and start-up IonQ are among prominent trapped-ion technology users.

Honeywell quantum computer control room

Honeywell is touting its control systems expertise as a key strength in pursuing quantum computing technology. The company says its H1 has unique capabilities such as mid-circuit measurement and qubit re-use that derive, at least in part, from Honeywell’s control systems expertise. The H1’s achievement of such a high QV value seems to be strong indicator of Honeywell’s contention. QV is a composite metric with many elements – gate error rates, decoherence times, qubit connectivity, operating software efficiency, etc. – baked into it. IBM’s highest rated system today is QV 64 (see HPCwire article).

Honeywell restated its commitment to rapidly increase its system’s QV by “at least” an order of magnitude annually for the next five years.

Quantum watcher Bob Sorensen of Hyperion Research, said, “Honeywell is perhaps the most horizontally integrated company currently working on quantum computing system development today. Unlike the bulk of other QC hardware developers, Honeywell can tap into the collective expertise across their broad technology and product base, which includes aerospace, materials, and manufacturing, to support the development of their QC systems. However, the jury is still out on determining the extent to which Honeywell benefits from using these more general-purpose in-house capabilities versus tapping into outside sources that explicitly support the QC supply chain ecosystem.”

Sorensen was impressed with Honeywell’s approach and embrace of QV as a metric, “The announcement of an industry-leading QV of 128 clearly delineates Honeywell’s committed to demonstrated performance gains on a regular cadence, especially when combined with its efforts to build confidence of a long-term commitment QC development. It is important to note that Honeywell’s emphasis here is not limited exclusively to touting qubit counts. Indeed, this QV number is based on a relatively low qubit count configuration at ten, below the qubit count currently available from many other QC supplier aspirants. Here, Honeywell is trying to move the needle on QC assessments based on a larger, more comprehensive set of parameters. Discussions about the relative strengths and weaknesses of quantum volume aside, it is encouraging to see a major QC developer embracing a more sophisticated QC benchmark.”

Business models for providing access to emerging quantum systems are still evolving. IBM and D-Wave (quantum annealing systems) both sell standalone systems but also offer web-based access IBM/D-Wave-owned and operated quantum computers. Most observers say the latter approach is likely to dominate, at least near-term, because quantum computers can be tricky to operate and maintain and because advances are happening so quickly that it makes more economic sense for vendors to provide access to the latest and greatest systems rather than having buyers struggle with an endless upgrade cycle.

Honeywell is making the H1 directly accessible to enterprises via a cloud API, as well as through Microsoft Azure Quantum, and channel partners Zapata Computing (collaboration and workflow) and Cambridge Quantum Computing (software and algorithms). A subscription service provides customers access to Honeywell’s most advanced quantum computer at the time.

Currently, there are two subscription levels (standard and premium) based on timed access to the quantum computer. “Standard” includes eight dedicated hours of time per month, unrestricted queuing; “premium” has 16 hours per month with unrestricted queuing. During the dedicated hours, subscribers also have access to Honeywell scientists for real-time cooperation. Honeywell say pricing is only disclosed under NDA and that the subscription model is available now.

“By approaching the commercial landscape through a subscription-based model, enterprise customers ensure they are accessing Honeywell’s most advanced system available,” said Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions in the official announcement.

Honeywell says its methodology enables it to systematically and continuously ‘upgrade’ the H1 generation of systems through increased qubit count, higher fidelities and unique feature modifications. Uttley likened this approach to a streaming service, “Imagine if the streaming service to which you subscribed became twice as good in a few weeks, ten times as good in a few months and thousands of times better in a few quarters.” The company says it has already begun integration activities for its H2 generation as well as development activities in support of its H3 generation.

Spectrometer subcomponent of Honeywell’s H1 trapped ion quantum computer

Virtually all current quantum computers remain R&D machines in the sense that putting them to practical use in a production environment is still distant. That said, several quantum system makers have begun showing promising early progress. Moreover, there’s an expanding quantum ecosystem of companies providing tools, software, and consulting to help the growing potential user community.

Talking about its work with Merck and Accenture, Honeywell said, “These partners represent the far-reaching use cases of quantum computing in the pharmaceutical and logistics fields in addition to the internal use cases that Honeywell is working across its own Aerospace and Performance Materials and Technologies businesses.”

Honeywell provided these testimonials:

  • Kam Chana, director, computational platforms, Merck, is quoted saying, “It was illuminating to experience the properties of real quantum hardware first-hand. Seeing one of Orquestra’s native QML algorithms run on Honeywell’s H1 system was an exciting moment for Merck in our journey to quantum readiness. The combination of Orquestra’s programming environment with quantum hardware opens up quantum computing widely to our data scientists and brings new approaches for development of AI/ML based models.”
  • Marco Pistoia of JPMorgan Chase said, “Our partnership will allow us, as well as the broader financial services industry, to further develop key elements aligned with fraud detection services as well as further optimizing investment decisions for our clients.”
  • Justin Baird, head of innovation, Asia Pacific, for DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation, said,  “We believe that addressing tomorrow’s global logistics challenges requires an unwavering commitment to advancing some of today’s most promising technologies, and that includes Quantum Computing. By attempting to solve computationally complex problems with Honeywell, we have taken another step towards exploring improving operational efficiencies, and leveraging quantum computing’s potential to innovate within the logistics industry.”

Turning a few of these pilot efforts into commercially valuable results is, of course, what the entire quantum computing community is pushing for.

Sorensen said, “There is no doubt that Honeywell’s large and diverse customer base could be a significant advantage, serving as a key testbed and development environment for the advancement of QC uses cases across a wide range of critical sectors. However, it is too early in the quantum computing  life-cycle for any user to lock into any one vendor, and as such, Honeywell needs to maintain, or even expand, its partnership base in the QC sector to ensure that users can have easy access to the most promising developments in the sector including those than may not originate from a Honeywell lab.”

Feature image: Optical signal conditioning for use when interacting with trapper ion qubits (credit: Honeywell)

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