Canadian startup D-Wave Systems has extended the availability of its Leap branded cloud-based quantum computing service to Europe and Japan.
With Leap, researchers will be granted free access to a live D-Wave 2000Q machine with - it is claimed - 2,000 quantum bits, or qubits.
Developers will also be free to use the company's Quantum Application Environment, launched last year, which enables them to write quantum applications in Python.
Each D-Wave 2000Q normally costs around $15m.
It is important to note that the debate on whether D-Wave's systems can be considered "true" quantum computers has raged since the company released its first commercial product in 2011.
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Rather than focusing on maintaining its qubits in a coherent state – like Google, IBM and Intel – the company uses a process called quantum annealing to solve combinatorial optimisation problems. The process is less finnicky but also less useful, which is why D-Wave claims to offer a 2,000-qubit machine, and IBM presents a 20-qubit computer.
While a traditional bit contains either 1 or 0, a qubit can be both at the same time, in a state called superposition, like Schrödinger's cat is simultaneously alive and dead. Using superposition, quantum computers can take advantage of the significantly greater number of possible states, theoretically allowing for vastly superior computing power.
But in order to harness this physical phenomenon, a true quantum computer requires temperatures that are as close as possible to absolute zero (-273.15°C, -460°F). Such calculations can also be disturbed by loud noises, bright lights – pretty much any and all interactions with the physical world.
Quantum computing could help break traditional encryption algorithms and solve complex modelling and combinatorial problems – useful in a wide variety of fields, from molecular biology to global finance. So far, all of these are potential applications – right now, researchers are busy defining developer tools and standards.
"Our work with D-Wave has allowed our team and our research partners to develop early applications ranging from a traffic IoT platform, to factory automation and beyond," said Masayoshi Terabe, quantum computing project lead at Denso, one of the world's largest car part manufacturers.
"Expanding access to more developers and researchers around the world will only serve our efforts as we continue exploring this new frontier of innovation with colleagues here in Japan and overseas."
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Quantum computing is a hot topic, and getting hotter every day: in January, IBM launched its 20-qubit System Q, available as a cloud service. Berkeley-based startup Rigetti makes its own quantum chips and launched a cloud-based beta in February. And March brought the launch of the Microsoft Quantum Network – the company doesn't have its own chips, but developed a programming language designed for quantum algorithms, called Q#.
Google is working on a 72-qubit chip called Bristlecone, and said it believes the architecture will eventually outperform the most powerful conventional supercomputers – an achievement researchers have dubbed "quantum supremacy".
Intel is taking it slow and working towards a system with a million qubits.
Alibaba has an 11-qubit quantum system, available in the cloud.
Yet another vendor in this space is Fujitsu, which developed its own "quantum-inspired" digital annealing chip, currently being trialled by NatWest.
Despite the level of interest, last year's report from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggested that this technology is unlikely to become useful in the next ten years.
But that doesn't mean useful research can't be done today: in December 2018, the US Senate passed the National Quantum Initiative Act, earmarking $1.2bn for quantum research funding over the next 10 years. ®