Q System One is the new quantum computer from IBM. The machine is not a final product but rather a prototype, said IBM Tech Vice-president Bob Sutor. This prototype shows that we are closer to developing quantum technology commercially.
In the technological race to build a practical quantum computer, companies are keeping their spirits loudly cheering each milestone, no matter how small.
First commercial quantum computer?
One of the main competitors is IBM, which days ago at CES presented the IBM Q System One: a quantum computer of 20 qubits built for stability, but with a very striking design. But that is a description that needs context. The Q System One may be designed for commercial use, but it is not exactly ready for it. Not in the way you might think.
Quantum computers like Q System One are still experimental devices. They can not outperform standard computers on useful tasks (your laptop is probably more powerful when it comes to real-life computing), but they are supposed to be research tools; letting us work, qubit by qubit, how quantum devices could work.
“It’s more like a springboard than a practical quantum computer,” Winfried Hensinger, professor of quantum technologies at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, said to The Verge. “Do not think of this as a quantum computer that can solve all the problems for which quantum computing is known. Think of it as a prototype machine that allows you to test and develop even more of the programming that could be useful in the future. “
And even as an experimental device, it’s not like IBM is going to start selling the Q System One at Best Buy. The company does not say how much it costs to buy one of these machines or even how many are manufactured.
Like other IBM quantum computers, it is only available through the cloud, where companies and research institutes can gain time on the IBM Q network. And today IBM announced two new customers in the network: the energy giant ExxonMobil and the European research laboratory CERN, the organization that built the Large Hadron Collider.
So, what is special about the Q System One?
A delicate business
Well, IBM said that the main achievement is to turn an experimental quantum machine into something closer to a conventional computer’s reliability.
Quantum computing is an extremely delicate business. Chips must be kept at freezing temperatures and can be disturbed by smaller electrical fluctuations or physical vibrations. The Q System One minimizes these problems, said IBM.
“This is something that IBM brings to the market. We know how to make integrated systems, “said IBM vice president of quantum research, Bob Sutor. “Electronics for a quantum computer is not something you buy on the shelf. You need an environment with a controlled temperature. You need to minimize vibrations, anything that can interrupt quantum calculations.”
Sutor said that a practical advantage of designing a machine like the Q System One is that it reduces research downtime. Resetting a quantum computer after a disorder caused by a power surge or a technical aspect is much, much faster with a device like the Q System One. “Resetting a quantum computer after a disorder caused by a power surge or a technical aspect is much, much faster with a device like the Q System One. “What used to take days and weeks now takes hour or days, “says Sutor.
And while this may seem like a marginal gain, if we’re ever going to have quantum computers that change the world the way we dream, reliable research will be completely key. IBM quantum computers are sensitive machines.
Map Project Office designed the machine. It’s an industrial design consultancy that worked with companies such as Sonos, Honda, and Graphcore.
The Q System One is contained in a nine-foot borosilicate glass cube, with its delicate internal parts sheathed by a shiny, rounded black box. It is reminiscent of Apple’s Mac Pro 2013, similar to a dustbin, and the 2001 Monolith: a space odyssey. It looks like a computer of the future.