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NASA says it had a hand in creating D-Wave's quantum computer

During mid-February, Canadian firm D-Wave Systems unveiled and demonstrated what it calls “the world's first commercially viable quantum computer.” The demonstration of the technology was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, but the actual hardware remained in Burnaby, BC.

The via-satellite demonstration, coupled with the lack of ivory tower support from academia, scientists quickly expressed their skepticism about D-Wave's claims. Much skepticism of the Canadian company’s claims may soon be washed away, as the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration confirmed last week that it had a hand in building a special chip used in D-Wave’s demonstration, according to IDG News Service.

Specifically, the relationship between D-Wave and NASA is one of designer and manufacturer. D-Wave designed the quantum-capable chips and contracted NASA to build them. Requests for aid in building supercomputers are nothing out of the ordinary for NASA’s Microdevices Laboratory, a unit of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which has experience dealing with sub-micrometer dimensions and ultra-low temperatures in quantum computing.

“There has been activity in MDL in quantum technology, including quantum computing, for around 10 years,” said Alan Kleinsasser, principal investigator in the quantum chip program at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Superconducting quantum computing technology requires devices and ultra-low [millikelvin] temperatures that are also required in much of our sensor work. A couple of years ago, D-Wave recognized that JPL is capable of producing the chips it wished to design. There is no [private] industry that can deliver such superconducting devices. So, we worked out a collaboration that produced the chips that D-Wave is currently using.”

To make the technology commercially applicable, D-Wave used the processes and infrastructure associated with the semiconductor industry. The D-Wave computer, dubbed Orion, is based on a silicon chip containing 16 quantum bits, or “qubits,” which are capable of retaining both binary values of zero and one. The qubits mimic each others’ values allowing for an amplification of their computational power. D-Wave says that its system is scalable by adding multiples of qubits. The company expects to have 32-qubit systems by the end of this year, and as many as 1024-qubit systems by the end of 2008.

“You could characterize our announcement as being met with enthusiasm from industry and skepticism from academia,” D-Wave CEO Herb Martin said, adding that the demonstration was a proof-of-concept aimed at potential business partners and clients. “Businesses aren't too fascinated about the details of quantum mechanics, but academics have their own axes to grind. I can assure you that our VCs look at us a lot closer than the government looks at the academics who win research grants.”



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RE: Benchmarks
By Pops on 3/13/2007 10:57:58 AM , Rating: 2
I would say the largest road block from this type of computing reaching peoples desktops is cooling. At the moment it seems impractical to be able to lower the temperature of the chip to its required level anywhere outside of a commercial building.

Now technology is changing every day. Maybe someone will be able to produce something down the road that can cool down to the required temp in a small self contained package. I find it kinda funny that its "air conditioning" that may keep us from potentially the most power computers ever created.


RE: Benchmarks
By Hare on 3/13/2007 2:25:45 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
I would say the largest road block from this type of computing reaching peoples desktops is cooling.
Nope. The biggest problem is that quantum computers are not used for these kinds of tasks. These are great for solving mathematical etc problems but that's it!


RE: Benchmarks
By joex444 on 3/13/2007 2:56:02 PM , Rating: 2
You are both right. Since these quantum computers rely on certain properties of superconductors, such as orderly spins and whatnot, they require a temperature low enough to ensure that. This tends to happen fully at temperatures below 1/1000th of a Kelvin. This is somewhere under -273.14C (as 0K = -273.15), though really, that's a bit too warm.

The most readily available coolant is LN2, and that's only capable of hitting about 84K, far too warm.

I can tell you that one of the most researched fields in solid state physics is superconductivity, and the search for a high temperature one (currently, there aren't any available materials which are superconductive above 100K). Still, if quantum computers rely on orderly spins, then this microkelvin temperature may be really impossible to circumvent.


RE: Benchmarks
By derwin on 3/13/2007 3:39:09 PM , Rating: 2
Is this kind of cooling done by helium dilution refridgeration?


RE: Benchmarks
By peternelson on 3/13/2007 5:10:22 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, you're right, this kind of cooling is done using the H3/H4 helium technique.

Unfortunately Helium is not as common as Nitrogen ;-)

There are some superconductive materials which can be cooled sufficiently using Nitrogen rather than Helium. However, they probably don't exhibit the quantum-style behaviours and may be affected by thermal noise etc.


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