The impact of quantum computing could be coming sooner than you think

The impact of quantum computing could be coming sooner than you think

In 2013, Rigetti Computing started developing quantum computers. Those efforts could bear serious fruit from 2023, the company said on Friday.

That’s because the Berkeley, California-based company plans to ship both its fourth-generation machine, called the Ankaa, and an enhanced model, called the Lyra, next year. The company hopes these machines will usher in a “quantum advantage” as the radically different machines mature into devices that actually deliver results that conventional computers can’t match, said Rigetti founder and chief executive Chad Rigetti.

Quantum computers rely on the strange physics of ultra-small elements like atoms and photons to perform calculations that are impractical on traditional computer processors that power smartphones, laptops and data centers. Proponents hope quantum computing will lead to more powerful vehicle batteries, new medicines, more efficient parcel delivery, more effective artificial intelligence, and other breakthroughs.

So far, quantum computers have been very expensive research projects. However, Rigetti is part of a large group struggling to be first to achieve a quantum advantage. These include tech giants like IBM, Google, Baidu and Intel, as well as specialists like Quantinuum, IonQ, PsiQuantum, Pasqal and Silicon Quantum Computing.

“This is the new space race,” Rigetti said in an exclusive interview ahead of the company’s first investor day.

For the event, the company unveiled more details about its entire technology offering, including manufacturing, hardware, the applications that run on its computers, and the cloud services to reach customers. “We build the complete rocket,” Rigetti said.

Although Rigetti is not a household name, he carries weight in this world. In February, Rigetti raised $262 million and became one of a handful of publicly traded quantum computing companies. Although the company has made it clear that its quantum computing business is a long-term plan, investors have become more skeptical. The stock price has fallen about three-quarters since the IPO, hurting most recently when Rigetti announced the delay of a $4 million US government contract that would have accounted for much of the company’s annual revenue of about $12 million to $13 million .

Quantum computers with more qubits

However, the company argues that it has the right approach over the long term. It starts in early 2023 with Ankaa, an 84-qubit processor, the fundamental data-processing element in a quantum computer. Four of these together form the basis of Lyra, a 336-qubit machine. The names are astronomical: Ankaa is a star and Lyra is a constellation.

Rigetti isn’t promising a quantum advantage from the 336-qubit machine, but it is the company’s hope. “We think it’s absolutely within the realm of possibility,” Rigetti said.

Having more qubits is crucial for more sophisticated algorithms needed for quantum advantage. Rigetti hopes customers in the financial, automotive, and government sectors will be willing to pay for this quantum computing power. Auto companies could explore new battery technologies and streamline their complex manufacturing operations, and financial services companies are always looking for better ways to spot trends and make trading decisions, Rigetti said.

Rigetti plans to integrate its Ankaa modules into larger machines: a 1,000-qubit computer in 2025 and a 4,000-qubit model in 2027.

However, Rigetti is not the only company trying to build a rocket. IBM has a 127-qubit quantum computer today, with plans for a 433-qubit model in 2023 and more than 4,000 qubits in 2025. While qubit count is only one measure of a quantum computer’s usefulness, it’s an important one Factor.

“What Rigetti is doing in terms of qubits pales in comparison to IBM,” said Paul Smith-Goodson, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

Rigetti’s quantum computing offerings

Along with these machines, Rigetti anticipates manufacturing developments, including a 5,000-square-foot expansion of the company’s Fremont, Calif., chip fab now underway, improvements in error-correction technology necessary to perform more than the most fleeting of quantum computing calculations , and better software and services so customers can actually use its machines.

A diagram from Rigetti Computing plans improvements in quantum computing by 2027

Rigetti Computing’s plans to improve its broad suite of quantum computing technology.

Rigetti computing

To achieve his goals, Rigetti also announced four new deals at his investor event:

  • Graphics and AI chip giant Nvidia has started a partnership to combine quantum and conventional computing to improve climate modelling
  • Microsoft’s cloud computing service Azure provides access to Rigetti machines
  • Bluefors will build new refrigerators to house the 1,000 and 4,000 qubit systems, a key technology partnership as its machines need to be cooled to near absolute zero
  • Keysight Technologies will offer its technology to reduce the error rates of quantum computers, a crucial step in performing more complex calculations

Qubits can be easily disrupted, so managing bugs is critical to the progress of quantum computing. A better foundation is less error-prone. Quantum computer manufacturers track this with a measurement called gate fidelity. Rigetti has 95 to 97 percent accuracy today, but prototypes for its fourth-generation Ankaa-based systems have shown 99 percent, Rigetti said.

In the eyes of analyst Smith-Goodson, quantum computing will eventually become useful, but there are many uncertainties about how and when we will get there.

“Everyone works on a million-qubit machine,” he said. “We’re not sure which technology will really be the one that’s actually going to make it.”

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