French company Pasqal is promising to have a 1,000-qubit quantum processor ready by 2023, a feat that would allow it to perform the kinds of complex calculations that would overwhelm any conventional supercomputer.
Founder Georges-Olivier Reymond told Sifted that Pasqal just raised a €25m Series A funding round to bring this vision to life. “It will be hard work, but absolutely feasible,” he said. “The hard science has already been done, it is a case of implementing it.”
A 1,000-qubit computer is generally thought to be what is needed to achieve “quantum supremacy”, the point at which quantum computers have a clear advantage over classical machines.
Quantum supremacy has been demonstrated already with smaller numbers of qubits, but for fairly specialist and limited problems. A 1000-qubit machine, however, is what researchers believe will make quantum computing truly commercially useful.
IBM last year announced a similar roadmap of building a 1,000 qubits machine by 2023 and quantum technology is being worked on by a dizzying array of big companies such as Google, Intel and Honeywell as well as startups, like Rigetti and IonQ.
The pledge by Pasqal shows that the small French company is looking to be a major quantum player, building on some already pioneering work.
Pasqal has already created processors with more than 100 qubits — a soon-to-be published paper in Nature will demonstrate quantum advantage with a 200-qubit processor. This far outstrips the 54-qubit Sycamore processor that Google used to demonstrate quantum supremacy in 2019.
Pascal, which is a spinout of France’s Institute Optique, creates qubits using lasers like a pair of optical tweezers to manipulate single, neutral rubidium atoms. The technology is similar to that being developed by US-based ColdQuanta, which recently received a $20m Series B funding round.
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The system is somewhat easier to build than a superconducting quantum computer, which requires extensive equipment to cool the qubits down to a temperature just above absolute zero. In Pasqal’s system, only the individual atoms are cooled to this extreme. The rest of the equipment can operate at room temperature. This, says Reymond, is one of the reasons why Pasqal’s quantum processors will be more easily scalable.
“Once you trap one atom, control its state and add the interaction with another atom, you simply have to replicate it and scale it up,” he told Sifted. Pascal already has one quantum computer in operation and two more under construction.
The company is working with EDF, the French energy company, to apply quantum computing to problems such as calculating the optimum way of charging up a fleet of electric vehicles, minimising the overall time it takes, while prioritising more important vehicles over others. (Sifted members can read here about how other large companies are trying to apply quantum computing.)
The €25m Series A funding round was led by Quantonation with Runa Capital, Daphni and Eni Next participating and includes a previously announced commitment by the European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund. It is the largest funding round for a European quantum startup so far this year, beating the £14.6m Series A round raised by quantum software company Riverlane in January. It comes after a bumper year in 2020, which saw €155m overall invested in European quantum companies.
Investments in European quantum computing companies (source: Dealroom)
The funding will be used to develop the processors, software tools and a quantum cloud service, as well as expanding abroad. Reymond said he was planning to grow the team from a current 25 staff to 100 by 2023.