Quantum computers will one day solve problems that are beyond impossible for the world’s biggest supercomputers. However, manufacturing quantum computers at scale remains a big challenge. With a fresh £30m in the bank from a Series A fundraise, Oxford Ionics aims to address this by building quantum processors using standard semiconductor chips.
The round was led by Oxford Science Enterprises and Braavos Investment Advisers. Among the other investors are Lansdowne Partners, Prosus Ventures, Torch Partners, 2xN — a London-based VC founded by quantum investor Niels Nielsen — and Hermann Hauser, the founder of British chip manufacturer ARM.
Oxford Ionics will be using the funds to triple the size of its team to about 80 people over the next two years, and to build and test high-performance quantum computers at their Oxford base. The startup aims to roll out access to its fleet of quantum computers to select customers throughout 2023 using a quantum-as-a-service model.
The race for quantum supremacy
There are several approaches to making quantum computers currently competing to prove their superiority. Oxford Ionics works with trapped ion technology — which consists of "trapping" single atoms in place using an electromagnetic field.
Chris Ballance, cofounder of Oxford Ionics, tells Sifted that the key advantage of this technology is that it guarantees that each qubit (the quantum equivalent of a computer bit) is perfect and identical to each other.
“Unlike their synthetic counterparts, such as superconducting circuits or spins in silicon, they are not fabricated as part of a device and do not vary over time or with small changes in device fabrication,” says Ballance.
This can be key for the performance of a quantum computer — a 100-qubit chip could outperform the world’s most powerful computers if the quality of its qubits is high enough. “If they’re not, you can end up needing a warehouse-sized 1m-qubit machine to do the same job.”
Developers of trapped ion quantum computers, such as Quantinuum, IonQ and Alpine Quantum Technologies, rely on expensive and complex laser systems to control the trapped ions.
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Instead of lasers, Oxford Ionics uses an electronic qubit control technology that can be integrated into a standard silicon chip — this allows the startup to manufacture its quantum processors at scale using existing manufacturing technology.
“We have already shown that we can build quantum computing chips in a standard semiconductor foundry with world-class performance,” says Ballance. “With these funds we are scaling out this technology to build powerful, accurate and reliable quantum computers which can solve the world's most important problems.”
Clara Rodríguez Fernández is Sifted’s deeptech correspondent, based in Berlin. Follow her on LinkedIn.
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