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German Parliament considers quantum opportunities

22 Jun 2018

Digital Committee meets industry, academia in Berlin to plot a route to quantum success.

On June 6th in Berlin, Germany, in the country’s Parliamentary Digital Agenda Committee (Ausschuss Digitale Agenda of the Deutsche Bundestag), held a public hearing with experts from industry and academia, considering the status of quantum computing and how Germany could benefit from related developments.

The following experts gave their views on the current and future perspectives in this field to members of the German parliament (MPs):

  • Dr. Stephan Ritter, Toptica Photonics
  • Prof. Dr. Frank Wilhelm-Mauch, Universität des Saarlandes
  • Prof. Dr. Marian Margraf, Freie Universität Berlin
  • Prof. Dr. Hendrik Bluhm, Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen
  • Prof. Dr. Johannes Buchmann, Technische Universität Darmstadt
  • Prof. Dr. Stephanie Wehner, QUTech, Delft University of Technology, NL
  • Prof. Dr. Winfried Hensinger, University of Sussex, UK

The MPs were particularly interested to learn about the German and European position in the international quantum scene with respect to fundamental and applied research, technological capability and the development of potential business models. The position of China and the US was also considered.

Regulatory requirement

During the discussion the societal opportunities and challenges with respect to quantum computing were addressed with current and future data security taking a larger part of the attention. Among others, the question was asked when regulatory input would likely be needed.

The experts were asked to describe possible time lines towards the development of quantum computers and what to expect in terms of their practical applications. Last but not least, they also considered what future role Germany could play as far as establishing not only quantum software but also quantum computing hardware.

Dr. Ritter of Toptica emphasized the close connection of quantum computer technology to quantum sensing, quantum communication and quantum metrology, which allows the various fields to be developed in parallel. He also stressed the important immediate role of quantum enabling tools (“Schlüsseltechnologie”) in which Germany already holds a globally important position, enabling well-positioned German contribution into the next topics of fundamental research.


optics.org interviewed Dr Wilhelm Kaenders, a President of Toptica, which is a key company operating in the German quantum-photonics research and development sector.

What are Germany's objectives with quantum-photonics?

In Germany we have the same realization as, for example, in the UK: although the national research communities have made important contributions to the field of quantum already in the past and they continue to do so, we are now seeing other parts of the world taking forward the technical and commercial exploitation of such results.

For example, there is the painful realisation that a future value chain for the industrialisation of the probably most exciting use of quantum technology – in form of quantum computers – is not yet existing within Germany alone and that such exploitation will not happen without the granting of strong initiatives and incentives with public support.

Quantum Photonics, basically the art of extremely well controlled light or more general electromagnetic radiation, will be used as a quantum object in its own right, but also as key enabling technology for other future quantum technology (QT) approaches as it allows to interact „softly“ with quantum objects. Nevertheless, the term QT is more appropriate as the technology and research under discussion encompasses much more than photonics alone and I would like see this term used rather. While national strategic and security interests will continue to shape and fund the US and the UK quantum technology process, such a funding mechanism is not in place in Germany. Therefore the quantum technology momentum for Germany has to be generated by public funding mechanisms.

What are the desired products and technologies to be developed?

Quantum technologies is seen to be directly useful in the following areas: communication, computing, simulation, sensing and metrology. The areas are interrelated in their technological approach but will be targeting finally different applications and different markets.

There is an important time-phasing distinction to be made when talking about a product and supply roadmap for quantum technology: Technology for Quantum (today non-existing high-end tools enabling quantum technologies) vs Technology with Quantum (taking advantage of quantum nature like particle/wave duality and entanglement).The first of these two – quantum enabling tools – are used to prepare, maintain, manipulate and finally read-out quantum states. The latter are technologies that employ the such prepared quantum states to be used as the “quantum difference/advantage” in a new instrumentation. Of course, ultimately, for real applications these two fields will blend into each other.

An important aspect, often neglected, is that all products based on quantum technologies will require first of all quantum-enabling technologies for them to be explored and finally function. These are products that do not make use of quantum properties like entanglement, but with specifications that are very often beyond the current state of the art and in my view need to be targeted first to be realized with the requested level of reliability. Many sub-components needed like specialised laser diodes matching atomic transitions are key enablers but are not available today from an established industrial supply chain.

Wilhelm Kaenders.

Wilhelm Kaenders.

What is the proposed academic-industrial model?

Germany, in contrast to the US, for example, employs what is known as the “Verbundforschungsmodell”, meaning collaborative research scheme, which positions academia and industrial system developers within a future supply chain but also potential user communities, all into a single consortium.

While academic partners receive 100% reimbursement from the German Government, the combined consortia typically will be provided only 50-60% state-funding for the industrial partners, requiring significant additional internal company support and investment.European funding on the other side, has been also using 100% support models for projects addressing fundamental research questions including industrial partners, which is very much appreciated by the companies in this early phase.

The German Fraunhofer Gesellschaft has recently started to establish a ‘quantum savvy’ infrastructure within some of their institutes. Fraunhofer will develop important cross-connects for a broader adaptation of quantum technology into the industrial process, and not at least, they will help to establish new recognized professions such as a "quantum engineer“.

At Toptica, we believe that quantum technology is still a long way from any significant broader market activity. Therefore, in particular, large companies have problems justifying any early investments, unless, they are, like Toptica, already a provider of quantum-enabling tools, that demonstrate market potential at an early stage.

Growing public attention for the field is generating increased awareness for this topic among the big industrial concerns and they observe this market with interest, at least, maybe even appetite. Whether they eventually develop their own quantum technologies, or prefer to buy the technology remains to be seen.

Which are the key players; companies / academic institutions / state agencies?

Traditionally, there are the universities, such as the Max-Planck-Institutes, in Germany, which are already providing already a market opportunity for quite a few suppliers of associated high-tech equipment such as lasers, cryosystems and vacuum technology.

Are there many existing quantum-photonics projects across the country, which will now be expanded?

Germany has started with a first round of funding one year ago, where, in a community process three lead projects were selected. One of them, with which Toptica is involved, is working on a hands-off single ion clock to be used as a technology demonstrator in a less benign environment. A call for quantum-enabling technologies was published last year with September 1st as deadline for the submission of proposals. Funding is expected to start within this year.

What are the possible international partnerships needed, such as within Europe and more widely?

In my view, Europe needs to be in this together as the wheel needed to be turned is too big for individual countries. National security interests can be helping to fund national initiatives, but how much that is helpful for open research remains to be seen.

What are the implications for potential quantum technology markets?

In the beginning, we need strategic interests to pay the bill. I see space going first with quantum applications taking advantage of the quantum precision and sensitivity being critical for space applications. Nest, we will see security issues dictating the agenda (quantum cryptography). Quantum metrology has been developed the most and remains critical only for a smaller user community, and as soon as we can get away from a cryogenic and vacuum environment, we will see basic quantum sensing applications evolve which promise future integration into consumer products.

One long-term objective is the quantum computer operated in dedicated facilities 10 to 20 years from now. My personal feeling is that physicists are underestimating the power of engineering if it can be put to effective use and which will speed up the time line. Today, there are still many fundamental quantum technology problems to be solved, such that engineering is still not yet able to start rolling forward at its full potential.

Is there yet any timetable / agreed plan for development of next steps?

Rumours say that the German government is about to start a major national QT initiative of more than €300 million for the next four years, complemented by significant QT infrastructure investments. The political German government building process has recently been finished and now since a few months the German federal ministries are in the process of formulating their internal agendas.

QT is an important one, where interest has been expressed from various angles (traditionally the BMBF, BMWi in charge of PTB, DLR/ESA, Helmholtz, etc.), but also BMI (national security, BMVg (Ministry of Defense)) and QT might very well become in the end a coordinated larger government program. I expect that a coherent political and funding process will be started after the summer break in 2018.

In 2017, Wilhelm Kaenders worked as one of the authors on a German industry QT Position Paper (a partnership between Bosch, Siemens, TOPTICA, Trumpf, and Zeiss representing other QT-interested companies).

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a Contributing Editor to optics.org.

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