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UK Government invests £45m in quantum technology

Written by Tue 6 Feb 2024

The UK Government has announced it will invest £45 million ($56 million) in the nation’s quantum technology to improve energy, healthcare, and transport.

The funded projects involve the development of a high-tech brain scanner, which will utilise quantum technology to improve the diagnosis of disorders like epilepsy and dementia. A smart navigation system for trains will also be created to reduce costs and enhance safety, particularly in tunnels.

The Government said quantum technologies are recognised as one of the Government’s five critical technologies as set out in the UK Science and Technology Framework. These technologies are expected to help grow the economy and create well-paid jobs nationwide.

“By unleashing computing power that goes far beyond existing digital technology, we can reach new frontiers in sensing, timing, imaging, and communications,” said Professor Will Drury, Executive Director of Digital and Technologies at Innovate UK.

The investment has arrived in two parts. The UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Technology Missions Fund and the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) have invested £30 million ($37 million) in a competition to develop and deliver quantum computing hardware prototypes. 

Another £15 million ($18.7 million) from the Quantum Catalyst Fund is set to accelerate the use of quantum in Government. Both initiatives will enable quantum technologies to be used in real-life applications in the private and public sectors.

Ian West, Head of Technology at accounting organisation, KPMG UK, said organisations have typically taken a cautious approach to quantum technology.

“But today’s investment in specific industries and targeted projects, will help bring clarity to give businesses more confidence in the technology to solve problems within their own four walls,” said Ian West, Head of Technology at KPMG UK.

However, West added that care should be taken with any experimentation with quantum due to the potential cyber risks.

UK Government to fund Quantum Computing Testbeds

In the first investment, the UKRI Technology Missions Fund and the NQCC will invest £30 million ($37 million) through a competition to deliver quantum computing hardware prototypes by March 2025.

By running quantum algorithms on different hardware, the projects aim to identify which technology is most effective for specific types of problems.

Seven projects will set up testbeds using different quantum computing platforms, including trapped-ion, superconducting, photonics, and neutral atoms. These testbeds aim to speed up the development of scalable quantum computers and provide a practical way to test and validate their performances.

A quantum testbed provides a controlled environment where scientists and engineers can manipulate and study qubits, which are the basic unit of information in quantum computing. The winning companies will gain direct access to the expertise within the NQCC and its user community. 

“This investment will help our researchers and innovators develop the blueprint for quantum computing hardware and software and secure the UK’s place in this developing field,” said Dr Kedar Pandya, Executive Director of Cross-Council Programmes at UKRI.

Seven NQCC testbeds have been established nationwide:

  • A flexible photonic quantum computing testbed for machine learning (Asteroidea) led by Orca Computing in London
  • The Quantum Advantage-Ready Trapped-Ion Exploration Testbed (QUARTET) run by Oxford Ionics in Oxford
  • Scalable Quantum Atomic Lattice (SQUALE) computing testbed hosted by Cold Quanta UK in London
  • Towards an error-corrected neutral-atom quantum computer led by QuEra UK Ltd in Exeter
  • Full-stack superconducting 24-Qubit quantum computing testbed with tuneable couplers and scalable control system run by Rigetti UK in London
  • Advanced Research Testbed Manipulating PhotonIc States (ARTEMIS) led by Aegiq in Sheffield
  • Silicon Cloverleaf led by Quantum Motion in London

“Over the coming 15 months these prototype quantum computing platforms will be deployed into the newly established NQCC facility providing us with a valuable insight into the maturity, characteristics and capabilities available across a range of hardware architectures,” said Dr Michael Cuthbert, Director of the National Quantum Computing Centre.

Quantum Technologies for Government Challenges

The additional £15 million ($18.7 million) of the investment will come from the Quantum Catalyst Fund. Also delivered by Innovate UK, this project will explore the benefits of using quantum technologies in the Government’s work across health, transport, and net zero. 

The competition aims to speed up the adoption of quantum solutions by the public sector to ensure the Government can benefit from these technologies across various policy areas.

In the initial 3-month phase 1 of the competition, feasibility studies explored how quantum technologies can tackle governmental challenges. The six most promising concepts chosen for phase 2 will now receive funding to develop and demonstrate prototypes of their solutions.

The Quantum Catalyst Fund projects are:

  • Quantum Simulations: A New Era for Actinide Chemistry hosted by Cambridge Quantinuum Ltd in London
  • Railway Quantum Inertial Navigation System for Condition-Based Monitoring hosted by MoniRail Ltd in the West Midlands
  • Quantum-Enabled Brain Imaging: A Pathway to Clinical Utility hosted by Cerca Magnetics Ltd in Nottingham
  • GCC – Gravity Cartography Catalyst hosted by Delta g Ltd in Birmingham
  • Quantum-optimised train schedules hosted by Q-CTRL UK Ltd in London
  • Quantum computing solutions for optimisation problems in Energy Grids hosted by Phasecraft Ltd in London

The Quantum Catalyst Fund is funded by the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT) and Innovate UK. The Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) offers organisations the opportunity to work with the public sector to develop new technologies and processes, helping to meet efficiency targets and improve public services.

In November, the UK’s tech sector was set to receive significant boosts from the US-based Ellison Institute of Technology, which plans to invest £1 billion ($1.2 billion) in its Oxford Campus, fostering global innovation.

Oxford Quantum Circuits is raising £85 million ($106 million) for R&D in quantum computing, a field where the UK leads in Europe.

Quantum computing in the UK is a rapidly growing sector that has the most startups in Europe, and is destined for £2.5 billion ($3.1 billion) of public and private investment under the Government’s National Quantum Strategy.

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Written by Tue 6 Feb 2024

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