Nestled among the trees of the Oxfordshire countryside, it would be easy to miss the headquarters of Oxford Instruments.
Housed inside, only a few hundred metres from smatterings of farmhouses and thatched cottages in Tubney Wood, Abingdon, is a potential breakthrough for Britain’s quantum computing.
Hanging like a golden chandelier, to be unveiled on Thursday, is what is claimed to be Britain’s first “commercially ready” quantum computer. It is part of a £10m project backed by the Government and built by Silicon Valley quantum developer Rigetti, alongside Oxford researchers.
The machine is ready to start work and, following testing, Rigetti aims to roll it out for commercial use early next year. “This is the first step,” says Mandy Birch, a senior vice president at Rigetti. “We’re excited to be working on some of humanity’s most important problems.”
Companies such as Rigetti are racing to create something that can be used to solve mathematical problems around climate change and drug discovery or financial markets.
Long promised, the machines aim to harness the properties of quantum mechanics to develop super powerful computers. Having inched forward for two decades, advances in the hardware have accelerated since 2019.
The technology makes use of quantum “bits”. Traditional computers run on ones and zeros. Quantum computers, however, run on these so-called “qubits”, generated by manipulating electrons or photons. Quantum can be one, zero, or even both, potentially supercharging the power of a computer.
This is, however, fiendishly hard science. Tinkering with quantum machines involves cooling them to near absolute zero or manipulating cutting edge circuitry.
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