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LASER 2022: Manage the quantum hype

26 Apr 2022

Attendees at the inaugural World of Quantum event in Munich are told to manage expectations and help make the emerging technology more widely understood.

by Mike Hatcher in Munich
The modern world could not exist without photonics, and twenty years from now, the same will be true of quantum technology.

That was one of the key messages for attendees at the opening session of the first LASER World of Photonics event since 2019. Postponed from last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the latest iteration of the trade show also marks the debut of the “World of Quantum”.

Part of the reason for the co-location is that quantum technology is seen to be at a similar stage of development to the laser back in 1973, when the very first World of Photonics event took place here in Bavaria.

The other key reason is that photonics and quantum technology are intrinsically interconnected. As Trumpf CTO Peter Leibinger noted in his keynote talk opening this year’s show:

“Without photonics there would not be any quantum technology.”

Expectation management
Leibinger also warned that it would be crucial to manage expectations over the next few years, and that the road to real applications and commercial quantum technology would be a long one.

Describing the decision to start the World of Photonics series nearly 50 years ago as “a huge bet”, Leibinger suggested that although lasers were a very new technology in 1973, they were actually closer to real-world implementation than most quantum technologies are today.

“This is a marathon,” he told attendees, adding that it would key to keep the scientific and industrial elements of the quantum scene aligned by pairing them at the event in the same manner of LASER World of Photonics.

Highlighting how today’s world relies on applications of photonics in communication, smart phone and semiconductor chip production, healthcare, and elsewhere, the Trumpf CTO predicted that in 20 years time, the world would be similarly reliant on quantum technologies.

Leibinger suggested that quantum magnetic field sensors were the most likely area to enjoy commercial success first, and said that integrated photonics would prove the key to shrinking photonic quantum processors based on networks of interferometers from the scale of a bench-top experiment to a more manageable size.

Trumpf has itself invested in this area, backing the startup company Q.ANT last September to develop a photonic process that is able to create highly specialized optical channels in a nonlinear crystal on conventional silicon chips.

Application development
Noting both the huge global investment in quantum technologies and the rapid increase in related patent applications - a harbinger of future commercial deployments - Leibinger nevertheless warned that the next few years would likely see a degree of “disillusionment” as reality fails to match the current level of hype.

“We won’t see more exhibitors,” he said, adding that government support and more efficient spending on research efforts would be needed as the emerging industry faces bridging the “valley of death” to commercial success.

In a panel session following his own talk, Leibinger predicted that the first cloud-based quantum computers would be up and running a decade from now - albeit running complex calculations unseen in the background.

He also urged quantum technology developers to spend more time building relationships with their customers than with their investors.

The Trumpf CTO said that advice was based on the experience of the laser industry, where success has been driven largely by those who have used lasers to develop applications, and not just the laser technology developers.

Ocean Insight IncEKSMA OpticsficonTEC Service GmbHLightTrans International GmbHBristol Instruments, Inc.Universe Kogaku America Inc.Schaefter und Kirchhoff GmbH
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