Investment

Another quantum computing initiative gets family backing

Universal Quantum of Brighton has emerged as the UK’s brightest hope in super-fast quantum computing after raising summer seed finance worth $4.5 million from wealthy families and financiers, with backing also from the UK government.

It is pressing ahead with recruitment plans, knowing it is operating in a crowded sector, where companies are competing to use sub-atomic particles to carry out calculations at enormous speed. According to analysts, the next Universal Quantum funding round, likely in a year’s time, will be far larger: research by Family Capital has consistently found the sector to be extremely popular with family offices as reported here and here

Quantum computers set out to take advantage of the way particles exist in several states at once, and get entangled with each other. The process, carrying messages on many levels, is known as superpositioning, as opposed to traditional computing, where decisions are binary.

New developments are being reported every week. Only this month, according to ‘Science Daily’ there have been breakthroughs in the correction of rogue calculations. Ways are being found to coax particles to stay in communication with each other for longer than a few hundred milliseconds – currently the best that can be achieved, even by keeping temperatures close to absolute zero. 

Research has also suggested that chilled graphene can offer a better way to hold particles in place than magnetic fields, which are frequently in use. 

Researchers also found in August that quantum computers can consistently beat the house in blackjack. They simulated time travel and found that sub-atomic visitors to the past could not change the present. 

Commercial, medical and military applications are endless. Rigetti Computing has won support from the US defence industry for its quantum computer. China is throwing $10 billion at the sector through its National Laboratory for Quantum Information Sciences programme. 

Universal Quantum was spun out of the University of Sussex and turned into a limited company in December 2018 under the lead of chairman and chief scientist Winfried Hensinger and chief executive Sebastian Weidt. 

Rather than mixing laser beams at frigid temperatures to reach calculations, their scientists have set out to trap sub-atomic particles, known as ions, and employ microwave technology, used in mobile phones, to carry out research in warmer conditions. They believe their system can be scaled up more easily than the competition via modular electric field connections rather than traditional quantum solutions which rely on bundles of optical fibre. 

Enormous sums are being thrown at quantum computing by investors, who can fund several ventures in the hope of finding resilient teams capable of putting their ideas into practice, while coming to terms with new discoveries and fierce competition.

PSIQuantum raised $215 million in the spring from investors led by Atomico of Europe. Larger US players include IBM, Google and Rigetti. Xanadu of Canada is a strong proponent of light-sourced quantum. Like Universal Quantum, Honeywell and IonQ claim progress with trapped ion solutions. 

Universal Quantum’s summer seeders include Hoxton Ventures, an early backer of Deliveroo; Village Global, which has been funded by Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos; Propagator Ventures, led by Oslo-based scientists Anders Froseth and Lise Rechsteiner; Luminous Ventures, led by Isabel Fox and Lomax Ward and 7percent Ventures, whose founding partner is serial entrepreneur Andrew J Scott.

However, these are early days for Universal Quantum. The same goes for the UK government’s new enthusiasm for cutting-edge technology, facilitated by Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to prime minister Boris Johnson. 

Cummings recently backed the creation of a $1 billion UK version of the US-style Advanced Projects Research Agency, despite the risks of failure and the vulnerability of projects to swings in the election cycle.  

This summer, it confirmed it was investing £70 million in quantum technology projects. Earlier this year, it agreed to back a $1 billion rescue of a satellite communications project led by Bharti Enterprises of India, run by Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal who is said to be worth $10 billion. 

It has invested $26 million in UK Covid-19 vaccine projects. And, no doubt, the UK government won’t be short of future opportunities, as long as its funding window stays open. 

 

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