When Georges Reymond was a schoolboy, he couldn’t have imagined that, decades later, he’d be building a company with the very same scientist whose work had made him fall in love with quantum physics.
“The research was so striking and so different from the classical physics I was learning in school. I said to myself, ‘Oh my god, I want to study this,’” he remembers.
Fast-forward 30 years and that scientist, Alain Aspect, is a Nobel prize winner. And with Reymond, he’s founded PASQAL, a quantum computing startup that’s just raised Europe’s biggest ever investment round in the sector.
The company has landed €100m to scale its quantum processing technology, which it says has already achieved a world first — by producing comparable results to a state-of-the-art classical computer.
Singapore-based Temasek led the round, with participation from new investors the European Innovation Council Fund, Wa’ed Ventures and Bpifrance. Previous investors Quantonation, the Defense Innovation Fund, Daphni and Eni Next also joined the round.
The Alain Aspect aspect
Aspect’s Nobel-winning work focused on the use of lasers to cool down atoms to make them stable enough to be useful as containers of quantum information, or qubits (the quantum equivalent of a “bit” in a classical computer).
PASQAL, which Aspect and Reymond cofounded, is now using this research to build a quantum processor using single atoms as the qubits, rather than making them out of superconducting materials like silicon that must be manufactured. PASQAL’s technology uses specialised lasers to hold single atoms in place, and to control their internal state.
“If we were to use superconducting qubits to do the same amount of work, it would require hundreds of thousands of quantum operations to do the same, which is completely out of reach,” he argues.
PASQAL’s approach, the entrepreneur says, is solving one of the big challenges for quantum processors: scaling up the number of qubits that can actually be put to use to solve complex computing problems.
“Last year IBM released a 127-qubit processor, but, as far as we know, they haven’t demonstrated anything as of now with it. On our side, a couple of months ago we implemented a real-life algorithm on a processor for a customer using 70 qubits… The difference is we know how to use them,” he explains.
A ‘world first’
PASQAL has also cleared one of the biggest hurdles facing quantum computing — proving parity with classical computers. Last year French banking group Crédit Agricole used PASQAL’s technology to run a lending risk calculation where the quantum computer performed as well as a state-of-the-art classical computer.
Other companies have signed up — customers include EDF Energy, Siemens, Airbus, LG Electronics and Johnson & Johnson.
And while the tech is not yet outperforming classical computers, Reymond says it won’t be long until it does — the company just needs to fine tune its tech to ramp up the number of usable qubits.
“The customers know that the technology is improving and that in one or two years, with more qubits, quantum computing will beat the state-of-the-art classical computers,” Reymond explains. “They’re looking ahead of time, training their people, learning how to use the computers, so that in one or two years, they will be ready to switch.”
PASQAL will now be using the €100m to double its headcount as it aims to increase the number of working qubits in its processor from 70 to 1,000. It’ll also expand its international footprint by opening up subsidiaries in the US and Canada as the company broadens its customer base.
Reymond says that PASQAL will offer two main product lines: a “quantum-as-a-service” cloud-based solution, as well as selling processors to companies, which he estimates will cost more than €10m a pop.
“I can now see corporate clients willing to buy processors, which is a real surprise,” he adds.
PASQAL isn’t the only company using the “neutral atom” approach in the quantum computing race. Google’s quantum AI lab is working on a processor using the tech, as are publicly listed, Maryland-based IonQ, Oxford-based ColdQuanta and Munich-based planqc.
But this record-breaking round — and PASQAL’s glittering list of corporate clients — shows that the long-promised arrival of quantum computing in real-world applications could finally be upon us.
Tim Smith is senior reporter at Sifted. He tweets from @timmpsmith