Quantum start-ups and researchers will share in a £54m fund to advance the UK’s quantum technology research. Funded by the UK Research Innovation (UKRI) Technology Mission Fund, it will include investment in software, hardware and non-computing applications. The move has been welcomed by industry insiders who say it will help give the UK an early-mover advantage as the technology matures.
Science Minister George Freeman made the announcement during London Tech Week and confirmed it was in addition to the £2.5bn investment previously announced for quantum technologies over the next decade as part of the National Quantum Strategy.
The money will be made available to universities and businesses. Among the awards, there will be £8m for 12 projects working on quantum positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) projects. Another £6m will go to 11 projects developing software for quantum machines and the same amount split between 19 feasibility studies into quantum computing applications.
The bulk of the money, £25m, will go to an additional seven projects building quantum-enabled PNT applications. That funding comes via the Small Business Research Initiative and will be aimed at companies building the technology.
Quantum computing gets most of the focus and hype but other technologies utilising the principles of quantum physics are likely to have more immediate real-world applications, including the broad field of PNT
One of the projects researching PNT is led by Imperial College and the team hope to develop a new type of sensor technology that can be used underwater or underground, in areas out of reach of global navigation satellite systems (GNSS) like GPS.
GNSS is vulnerable to poor weather and can be subject to jamming. It also struggles with certain locations and so experts are working on ways to tackle this. The Imperial team say their quantum sensor technology could provide accurate positioning information underground and are partnering with Transport for London to prove it.
The team will use the grant to test the new technology on trains. This will allow them to better understand with a high degree of accuracy the position of any train within the network and allow for better maintenance and control systems.
Quantum funding: software and real-world applications
The National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) is supporting 11 software-related grants to improve quantum-related algorithms. One of this run by the University of Oxford and will see them build a new generation of compilers that can translate code written by humans into something the quantum processor can run.
Grants for businesses will see investigations into ways quantum machine learning can reduce carbon emissions in aviation, ways money laundering can be detected and use cases in healthcare such as patient allocation and triage.
Will Drury, executive director for digital and technologies at Innovate UK said: “Our exceptional researchers, businesses and innovators are continuously pushing the boundaries of quantum technology development, placing the UK at the leading edge of this field. Together, through this support and investment, we will work in partnership to realise the potential of this technology for our UK economy and society.”
The NQCC also confirmed an additional £30m for quantum computing testbeds – prototype quantum computers. They will seek to underpin further growth of a UK quantum computing sector capable of delivering quantum advantage by 2025.
Steve Brierley, CEO and founder of quantum engineering company Riverlane, praised the move, including driving forward investment in quantum technology. “This is a smart investment that can deliver massive returns for the UK’s long-term economic growth and competitiveness via the vast opportunities for innovation and human progress that quantum offers,” he said. “We’re collectively building on the UK’s early mover advantage in quantum computing which, with enlightened investment over the past decade, is already delivering strong returns.”
Brierley continued: “Some say the UK can’t play a leading global role advancing quantum computing because other nations and tech giants have deeper pockets. I fundamentally and strongly beg to differ.”
Arguing that the UK “leads the world in designing the semiconductors powering a generation of smartphones and connected devices”, thanks to the work of Arm and others, he added: “We can achieve exactly the same in quantum computing.”