Microsoft Touts Continued DARPA Quantum Computing Funding
Microsoft on Thursday noted its continued funding from a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program that is investigating ways to jumpstart quantum computing.
DARPA's effort, called the "Underexplored Systems for Utility-Scale Quantum Computing (US2QC) program," is funding alternative methods of getting to so-called "utility-scale operation" for quantum computers. DARPA defines utility-scale operation as a machine "whose computational value exceeds its costs."
In December, DARPA announced US2QC funding awards to both Microsoft and PsiQuantum, which are getting renewed funding as part of the second phase of the US2QC program. Atom Computing, with its "atomic array-based quantum computing" technology, was funded in the first phase, but it wasn't described in DARPA's December announcement.
The second phase of US2QC funding "is expected to run through March 2025," DARPA's announcement indicated.
DARPA's US2QC effort is an attempt to jumpstart bogged-down quantum computing efforts. The error rate is too high with current quantum computer machines. The present goal is to get below one error for every thousand operations, as explained in a Feb. 28, 2023 talk by Dr. Chetan Nayak, a Technical Fellow and Distinguished Engineer on the Microsoft Azure Quantum hardware team. Microsoft's approach is to improve the error rate of a logical qubit in software through hardware, Nayak added. Microsoft asserts that its "topological qubits" approach will result in "less noisy" qubits.
PsiQuantum, on the other hand, is taking a "photonic approach" to get to utility-scale operations with quantum computing. The company is building the infrastructure for "a full-scale fault-tolerant quantum computer" using "photonic chips," which need to be cryogenically cooled.
A Feb. 1, 2023 Forbes article by Moor Insights and Strategy had characterized the US2QC program as evaluating three different approaches to jumpstarting quantum computing. "Specifically, DARPA wants to determine if relatively new quantum technologies such as neutral atom, topological and photonics can be leveraged to develop a fault-tolerant quantum computer within ten years," the article explained. However, it seems that Atom Computing didn't make the second round of funding, and so DARPA is just evaluating two approaches.
According to the 2023 Forbes article, it was Atom Computing that had been the only company with a "working programmable quantum prototype."
Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.