Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: The CIO's guide to quantum computing

Eight leading quantum computing companies in 2020

Organizations investing in quantum computing cite improved AI capabilities, accelerated business intelligence, and increased productivity and efficiency, according to analysts.

IBM announces its Quantum roadmap

The use of quantum computers has grown over the past several months as researchers have relied on these systems to make sense of the massive amounts of data related to the COVID-19 virus.

Quantum computers are based on qubits, a unit that can hold more data than classic binary bits, said Heather West, a senior research analyst at IDC.

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Besides better understanding of the virus, manufacturers have been using quantum systems to determine supply and demand on certain products -- toilet paper, for example -- so they can make estimates based on trends, such as how much is being sold in particular geographic areas, she said.

"Quantum computers can help better determine demand and supply, and it allows manufacturers to better push out supplies in a more scientific way,'' West said. "If there is that push in demand it can also help optimize the manufacturing process and accelerate it and actually modernize it by identifying breakdowns and bottlenecks."

Quantum computing gains momentum

Quantum has gained momentum this year because it has moved from the academic realm to "more commercially evolving ecosystems,'' West said.

In late 2019, Google claimed that it had reached quantum supremacy, observed Carmen Fontana, an IEEE member and a cloud and emerging tech practice lead at Centric Consulting. "While there was pushback on this announcement by other leaders in tech, one thing was certain -- it garnered many headlines."

Echoing West, Fontana said that until then, "quantum computing had felt to many as largely an academic exercise with far-off implications. After the announcement, sentiment seemed to shift to 'Quantum computing is real and happening sooner than later'."

In 2020, there have been more tangible timelines and applications for quantum computing, indicating that the space is rapidly advancing and maturing, Fontana said.

"For instance, IBM announced plans to go from their present 65-qubit computer to a 1,000-qubit computer over the next three years," he said. "Google conducted a large-scale chemical simulation on a quantum computer, demonstrating the practicality of the technology in solving real-world problems."

Improved artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, accelerated business intelligence, and increased productivity and efficiency were the top expectations cited by organizations currently investing in cloud-based quantum computing technologies, according to an IDC survey earlier this year.

"Initial survey findings indicate that while cloud-based quantum computing is a young market, and allocated funds for quantum computing initiatives are limited (0-2% of IT budgets), end users are optimistic that early investment will result in a competitive advantage,'' IDC said.

Manufacturing, financial services, and security industries are currently leading the way by experimenting with more potential use cases, developing advanced prototypes, and being further along in their implementation status, according to IDC.

Challenges of quantum challenges

Quantum is not without its challenges, though. The biggest one West sees is decoherence, which happens when qubits are exposed to "environmental factors" or too many try to work together at once. Because they are "very, very sensitive," they can lose their power and ability to function, and as result, cause errors in a calculation, she said.

"Right now, that is what many of the vendors are looking to solve with their qubit solutions,'' West said. 

Another issue preventing quantum from becoming more of a mainstream technology right now is the ability to manage the quantum systems. "In order to keep qubits stable, they have to be kept at very cold, subzero temps, and that makes it really difficult for a lot of people to work with them,'' West said.

Nevertheless, With the time horizon of accessible quantum computing now shrinking to a decade or less, Fontana believes we can expect to see "an explosion of start-ups looking to be first movers in the quantum applications space. These companies will seek to apply quantum's powerful compute power to solve existing problems in novel ways."

Companies focused on quantum computing

Here are eight companies that are already focused on quantum computing.

1. Atom Computing

Atom Computing is a quantum computing hardware company specializing in neutral atom quantum computers. While it is currently prototyping its first offerings, Atom Computing said it will provide cloud access "to large numbers of very coherent qubits by optically trapping and addressing individual atoms," said Ben Bloom, founder and CEO.

The company also builds and creates "complicated hardware control systems for use in the academic community,'' Bloom said.

2. Xanadu

Xanadu is a Canadian quantum technology company with the mission to build quantum computers that are useful and available to people everywhere. Founded in 2016, Xanadu is building toward a universal quantum computer using silicon photonic hardware, according to Sepehr Taghavi, corporate development manager.

The company also provides users access to near-term quantum devices through its Xanadu Quantum Cloud (XQC) service. The company also leads the development of PennyLane, an open-source software library for quantum machine learning and application development, Taghavi said.

3. IBM

In 2016, IBM was the first company to put a quantum computer on the cloud. The company has since built up an active community of more than 260,000 registered users, who run more than one billion every day on real hardware and simulators.

In 2017, IBM was the first company to offer universal quantum computing systems via the IBM Q Network. The network now includes more than 125 organizations, including Fortune 500s, startups, research labs, and education institutions. Partners include Daimler AGJPMorgan Chase, and ExxonMobil.  All use IBM's most advanced quantum computers to simulate new materials for batteries, model portfolios and financial risk, and simulate chemistry for new energy technologies, the company said. 

By 2023, IBM scientists will deliver a quantum computer with a 1,121-qubit processor, inside a 10-foot tall "super-fridge" that will be online and capable of delivering a Quantum Advantage -- the point where certain information processing tasks can be performed more efficiently or cost effectively on a quantum computer, versus a classical one, according to the company.

4. ColdQuanta

ColdQuanta commercializes quantum atomics, which it said is "the next wave of the information age." The company's Quantum Core technology is based on ultra-cold atoms cooled to a temperature of nearly absolute zero; lasers manipulate and control the atoms with extreme precision.

The company manufactures components, instruments, and turnkey systems that address a broad spectrum of applications: quantum computing, timekeeping, navigation, radiofrequency sensors, and quantum communications. It also develops interface software.

ColdQuanta's global customers include major commercial and defense companies; all branches of the US Department of Defense; national labs operated by the Department of Energy; NASA; NIST; and major universities, the company said.

In April 2020, ColdQuanta was selected by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a scalable, cold-atom-based quantum computing hardware and software platform that can demonstrate quantum advantage on real-world problems. 

5. Zapata Computing

Zapata Computing empowers enterprise teams to accelerate quantum solutions and capabilities. It introduced Orquestra, an end-to-end, workflow-based toolset for quantum computing. In addition to previously available backends that include a full range of simulators and classical resources, Orquestra now integrates with Qiskit and IBM Quantum's open quantum systems, Honeywell's System Model HØ, and Amazon Braket, the company said.

The Orquestra workflow platform provides access to Honeywell's HØ, and was designed to enable teams to compose, run, and analyze complex, quantum-enabled workflows and challenging computational solutions at scale, Zapata said. Orquestra is purpose-built for quantum machine learning, optimization, and simulation problems across industries.

6. Azure Quantum

Recently introduced Azure Quantum provides a "one-stop-shop" to create a path to scalable quantum computing, Microsoft said. It is available in preview to select customers and partners through Azure.

For developers, Azure Quantum offers:

  • An open ecosystem that enables access to diverse quantum software, hardware, and offerings from Microsoft and it partners: 1QBit, Honeywell, IonQ, and QCI.
  • A scalable, and secure platform that will continue to adapt to our rapidly evolving quantum future.
  • An ability to have quantum impact today with pre-built applications that run on classical computers -- which Microsoft refers to as "quantum-inspired solutions."

7. D-Wave

Founded in 1999, D-Wave claims to be the first company to sell a commercial quantum computer, in 2011, and the first to give developers real-time cloud access to quantum processors with Leap, its quantum cloud service.

D-Wave's approach to quantum computing, known as quantum annealing, is best suited to optimization tasks in fields such as AI, logistics, cybersecurity, financial modeling, fault detection, materials sciences, and more. More than 250 early quantum applications have been built to-date using D-Wave's technology, the company said.

The company has seen a lot of momentum in 2020. In February, D-Wave announced the launch of Leap 2, which introduced new tools and features designed to make it easier for developers to build bigger applications. In July, the company expanded access to Leap to India and Australia. In March, D-Wave opened free access to Leap for researchers working on responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, the company launched Advantage, a quantum system designed for business. Advantage has more than 5,000 qubits, 15-way qubit connectivity, and an expanded hybrid solver service to run problems with up to one million variables, D-Wave said. Advantage is accessible through Leap.

8. Strangeworks

Strangeworks, a startup based in Austin, Texas, claims to be lowering the barrier to entry into quantum computing by providing tools for development on all quantum hardware and software platforms. Strangeworks launched in March 2018, and one year later, deployed a beta version of its software platform to users from more than 140 different organizations. Strangeworks will open its initial offering of the platform in Q1 2021, and the enterprise edition is coming in late 2021, according to Steve Gibson, chief strategy officer.

The Strangeworks Quantum Computing platform provides tools to access and program quantum computing devices. The Strangeworks IDE is platform-agnostic, and integrates all hardware, software frameworks, and supporting languages, the company said. To facilitate this goal, Strangeworks manages assembly, integrations, and product updates. Users can share their work privately with collaborators, or publicly. Users' work belongs to them and open sourcing is not required to utilize the Strangeworks platform.