French quantum computing start-up Pasqal SE has raised €100m in its Series B funding round. It has developed a quantum computer that controls neutral atom-based qubits using “optical tweezers” built using laser light. The company says this allows for scalable quantum processors that can operate at room temperature.
Pasqal demonstrated a 200-qubit quantum computer in 2021 and expects to have its first 1,000-qubit machine by the end of this year. It is designed to run at room temperature, unlike other approaches from companies such as IBM requiring cooling close to absolute zero to achieve reliable performance.
The start-up says its machine is software-agnostic, which allows for a wider range of use cases as the neutral atom technology is more easily reprogrammable. Its lower energy level requirements also allow for more efficient algorithms which, co-founder Alain Aspect says puts the company on track to achieve quantum advantage. That is the point where quantum computing can perform tasks not possible with classical computers due to the time it would take for a classical machine to run the calculations or solve the problem.
“We are convinced that we can bring quantum advantage to our customers in the very near term, ” the company said in a statement. Its quantum processing unit (QPU) implements analogue and digital quantum processing tasks with analogue offering high control over systems and fine-tuning of physical parameters. This is particularly useful for industrial applications.
“One very promising direction is solving differential equations, echoing the history of classical computing. The company has also relied on its analogue mode to enable novel quantum-enhanced machine-learning techniques. And, our focus has been on graph-related problems.”
Jean-Charles Cabelguen, VP innovation at Pasqal wrote in a Medium article that quantum computing made returning to analogue principles, first set out in the 19th century, plausible. Digital quantum computing algorithms are executed through sequences of discrete operations known as quantum gates but for analogue machines, the user controls a small number of parameters and the quantum computer “evolves towards an answer continuously.”
Pasqal says commercial advantage is possible by 2024
Pasqal uses digital and analogue quantum computers to gain the benefit of both approaches. They encode input into a neutral atom array, process it with tuned lasers and take a “picture” of the atoms to extract the result. They run in either digital or analogue or both depending on the best approach for the problem.
The company says this is the largest funding round for an EU company operating in the quantum sector and will allow it to accelerate development of its 1,000-qubit quantum processor in the short term, and to focus on fault-tolerant processors in the longer term. This next-generation architecture is needed to address issues around stability of qubits.
Pasqal says it will also increase the production of its existing quantum computer for on-premises deployment and create new algorithms for customers in energy, pharmacy, automotive and finance sectors. It says by 2024 customers using its hardware will realise a commercial advantage over those not deploying quantum algorithms.
CEO Georges-Olivier Reymond said: “This funding round validates that neutral atom technology is a premier platform for delivering real-world quantum applications, and we are proud to see its potential recognised by top investors.”
A full-stack quantum computing solution
Pasqal merged with German quantum software start-up Qu&Co in 2021 to allow it to offer a full-stack solution. This helped it attract BMW, which is using the algorithms to “simplify complex simulations used in crash testing” as well as develop more durable vehicle parts. The company is also working with Airbus, Siemens, Johnson and Johnson and Thales.
Investment was led by Singapore-based Temasek, with money from the likes of the European Innovation Council Fund, Wa’ed Ventures, Bpifrance and existing backers Quantonation, the Defense Innovation Fund and Daphni.
Co-founder Aspect won the Nobel Prize in Physics last year for work that led to the foundations of quantum informatics, the application of quantum mechanical principles to information science, including the processing, analysis and transmission of information.
He won the prize alongside John F Clauser, and Anton Zeilinger for experiments with entangled photons. They tested the theories of physicist John Bell set out in 1964 which established properties of “Bell Pairs” of particles used in quantum computing. His work on developing a technique to cool down atoms enough so they could be rendered immobile and more easily manipulated led to the founding of Pasqal in 2019 with Reymond, Antoine Browaeys, Thierry Lahaye and Christophe Jurczak.