It seems extraordinary over the last decade how quantum computing (QC) has grown. This has been brought on partly by the level of investment in the space.
According to an analysis conducted by Nature, the total value of deals in QC grew from $46m in 2012 to $173m in 2018, though 2017 was a peak year when $278m was spent on deals. Location wise, the industry has been dominated by North America, with Europe, Australia and China following behind.
What is more, current projections predict a 24.9% CAGR from last year to 2024 — that’s from $93 million to $283 in cash terms.
And though the investment seems tiny in comparison to other disruptive technology markets (AI & blockchain, for example), the growth rate is something to feel positive about.
For ten years two places have dominated the QC scene in regard to research and VC investment: The first, not surprisingly, has been the United States, and Silicon Valley, in particular. The other, Canada and its aptly named Quantum Valley, centred at Waterloo, Ontario.
Whilst other countries have universities in partnership with startups on the boil, they are not on the level of the American and Canadian initiatives.
At least not yet.
With Brexit done and dusted (we think), the UK can now look forward to a bright future (or not) going forward on its own. And one area where it intends to make its mark is in quantum technologies.
National Quantum Technologies Programme
In 2013, the UK government, under the then prime minister David Cameron, started the National Quantum Technologies Programme. Last year, the British Science Minister, Chris Skidmore, announced the next step in this plan, a £94 million funding investment in the country’s Quantum Technologies Research Hubs, based at Birmingham, Glasgow, Oxford, and York.
As part of the £270 million investment of the UK national quantum technologies programme, EPSRC funded a national network of Quantum Technology Hubs. This was a £120 million investment in four hubs that will explore the properties of quantum mechanics and how they can be harnessed for use in technology.
— UK National Quantum Technologies Programme
While it is no surprise The City of Dreaming Spires is on the list, the grey, concrete gloom of Birmingham in the British Midlands, home of Black Sabbath, The Peaky Blinders and a strange English accent that nobody understands, (it’s my hometown, by the way) is. The football-made city of Glasgow, where Celtic and Rangers football clubs are based —and funnyman Billy Connelly’s birthplace, too – is the second place. Finally, there’s York, an ancient city (founded in AD 71 by the Romans) steeped in history, and rather more well known as a tourist destination than anything else, could make some VCs, academics and others with an interest in the UK QC industry raise their eyebrows in amazement.
Located at the University of Birmingham in the leafy suburb of Edgbaston, the Hub for Quantum Technology in Sensors and Metrology, led by Professor Kai Bongs and his group of scientists, has one goal in mind:
to translate laboratory science into real-world situations to solve the challenges facing society and the environment today
— Hub for Quantum Technology in Sensors and Metrology, Birmingham
Spanning disciplines as diverse as psychology, civil and electrical engineering, the Hub works in partnership with other academic centres, including the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the British Geological Survey (BGS) and several universities to introduce quantum technologies into the marketplace as practical applications that can have a lasting effect on business and economic life.
With £23.5m in funding from the National Quantum Technologies Programme, the Hub is well placed to achieve its research goals.
Bongs, Chair of Quantum Matter at Birmingham since 2007, as well as holding the post of Editor In Chief at EPJQuantum Technologies, has a physics Ph.D. degree from Leibniz Universität Hannover and a postdoc from Yale University. As far as his academic achievements go, he specializes in quantum simulation with cold atoms, precision quantum sensors plus half a dozen more.
‘We’re developing ultra-precise sensors, and in particular, we’re working on rotation, magnetic fields, gravity, light, and time. We’re working with over a hundred industry partners to, on the one hand, transfer the knowledge on quantum physics and recent Nobel Prize science, but we are also working with applied end-users and companies to solve the impossible challenges industry and society are facing…’
— Birmingham Heroes: Professor Kai Bongs talks Quantum Technologies, 2017
Moving north now, we come to Scotland, home to two startups in the space, M Squared Lasers and the mysterious Quantum Impenetrable (a one-man band as far as I know, founded by the Thomas Pynchon-like G. Wayne H, who since 1985 has been an ‘inventor, architect of systems and devices, electronics, firmware and Software, including PQC Impenetrable E2E encryption’), Glasgow is home to the UK Quantum Technology Hub in Quantum Enhanced Imaging (QuantIC), located at the University of Glasgow.
With a fund value of £21,586,672 provided by EPSRC lasting the period from December 2019 until November 2024, the Hub is well-funded in the space.
QuantIC’s head is Professor of Optics Miles Padgett, Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, who in 2008 won the UK Institute of Physics, Optics and Photonics Division Prize. Many others have followed since.
QuantIC is developing innovative technologies to disrupt the marketplace
— QuantIC’s website
His team consists of over twenty leading physicists, specialists in fields that stretch across the spectrum from single-photon imaging to enhancing ground-based laser-interferometric gravitational wave detectors.
‘I think the UK has a world-leading ecosystem. Over the last four or five years, it has taken quantum science and is translating it into quantum technologies in imaging, in computing, in sensing, and communications, transforming commerce, business and indeed the world around us.’
— Professor Miles Padgett
Established in 2014, the Hub’s ultimate goal is to:
Pioneer multidimensional cameras operating across a range of wavelengths, time- scales, length-scales, creating a new industrial landscape for imaging systems and their applications
— QuantIC’s website
Araceli Venegas-Gomez, founder and director of Qureca, a Glasgow-based startup focussed on ‘creating global opportunities’ with quantum technologies and currently finalizing her Ph.D. in quantum optics and quantum many-body physics at the University of Strathclyde, had this to say about the Glasgow Hub:
‘One of the hubs, Quantic, led by the University of Glasgow, focusses on enhanced imaging projects. These topics are unique, as there are no similar classification in any of the other main national initiatives. However, sometimes we find imaging within sensing in metrology. The particularity of the research and technology developed by Quantic, whose Principal Investigator is Prof. Miles Padgett, is that it does not purely rely on the quantum phenomena we hear every day in the news, such as superposition and entanglement. Instead, their research focusses on other phenomena producing specific quantum states. Many of their activities are founded in classical physics and have been developed and inspired by quantum physics. Particularly in cases where they work in the limit of single photons, and imaging with specific quantum states of light, we are back at proper quantum technology. There, we still remain within the quantum boundaries.’
Finally, we come to York, the home of the Quantum Communications Hub, at the University of York.
In partnership with the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory, the National Cyber Security Centre, the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, and the Knowledge Transfer Network, the Hub is well connected in the industry.
The Quantum Communications Hub is a technology research and development consortium of UK Universities, industrial partners and public sector stakeholders, funded through the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme and focused on developing quantum secure communications technologies, with the aim to advance proved concepts such as quantum key distribution (QKD) systems to a commercialisation-ready stage.
— Quantum communications Hub website
In charge of operations is Professor Tim Spiller, Professor of Quantum Information Technologies at The University of York. His team is made up of Principal-Investigators and Co-Investigators all working tirelessly to ‘develop quantum secure communications technologies, with the aim to advance proved concepts such as quantum key distribution (QKD) systems to a commercialization-ready stage’.
In July of last year, £24m in additional funding was renewed by the government for the Quantum Communications Hub, giving it the impetus to develop ideas in quantum communications further.
The Hub’s goal, then, is — having already initiated the country’s first Quantum Network (UKQN) — to build on that success and develop new QKD technologies which work on quantum applications based on conventional light while considering for the future next-generation, chip-based quantum communications architecture.
‘The main vision of the hub is to take existing, demonstrated scientific results for Quantum Key Distribution and to turn those into working, commercializable technology within the five-year framework of the Hub.’
— Professor Tim Spiller
And so, there you have it— quantum centres that are not in Oxford, Cambridge or London. Who would believe it if it weren’t true?
The new decade promises a lot in disruptive technologies, and with these three hubs — plus the Hub in Quantum Computing and Simulation in Oxford (forgive me for not mentioning you) — the UK can be, Brexit and the ensuing politics that’ll inevitably surround it ignored, lead the charge in the QC space.