For a long time IBM and Google have dominated the field of quantum computing. Earlier this year both companies launched their own quantum computing chips: In April, Google launched a nine-bit computing chip, and in May, IBM launched a seventeen-bit computing chip.
However, now one of the largest chip manufacturers is set to present stiff competition to IBM and Google. On Tuesday, Intel announced its first-ever quantum processing chip with its state-of-the-art 17-cubit superconducting test chip.
“We’re [moving] quantum computing from the academic space to the semiconductor space,” says Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel.
While Intel is relatively new to the quantum computing field, the company is betting that its fabrication expertise can help it catch up with, or even surpass, its rivals. Clarke says the company chose to focus on quantum computing in 2014, figuring that it could accelerate progress using existing manufacturing methods. “Intel is the only player that has advanced manufacturing and packaging technologies,” he says.
Intel’s quantum chip uses superconducting qubits (quantum bits). This approach is built on an existing electrical circuit design, but the chip uses a fundamentally different electronic phenomenon that only works at very low temperatures. The chip, which can handle 17 qubits, was developed over the past 18 months by researchers at a lab in Oregon and is being manufactured at an Intel facility in Arizona.
The research and development was done in collaboration with QuTech, a Dutch company spun out of the University of Delft that specializes in quantum computing.
“Our quantum research has progressed to the point where our partner QuTech is simulating quantum algorithm workloads, and Intel is fabricating new qubit test chips on a regular basis in our leading-edge manufacturing facilities,” said Intel Labs’ Dr. Michael Mayberry. “Intel’s expertise in fabrication, control electronics and architecture sets us apart and will serve us well as we venture into new computing paradigms, from neuromorphic to quantum computing.”
QuTech has made significant progress in recent years toward developing more stable qubits. Intel invested $50 million in QuTech in 2015.