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IonQ claims quantum interconnect advance

26 Feb 2024

Quantum computing firm says it has generated photons entangled with ions repeatedly and reproducibly.

IonQ, a US company already offering quantum computing via a cloud service, now claims to have demonstrated what it calls “commercial-grade” ion-photon entanglement - a requirement for future quantum networks based on photonic interconnects.

While there have been earlier demonstrations of such entanglement in academic settings, IonQ says that it has generated photons entangled with ions “repeatedly and reproducibly”, creating a quantum state that would enable future networks with the ability to communicate and transfer quantum information.

“IonQ's research team demonstrated the generation and collection of single photons from an ion qubit, successfully routing those photons to specialized detection optics used to verify ion-photon entanglement across this network,” announced the firm in a press release.

“The work represents a crucial first step towards developing photonic interconnect protocols for quantum computing applications running across multiple quantum processing units (QPUs).”

Photonic interconnects
While the Maryland-headquartered company has not published a peer-reviewed article detailing the development, a related blog post from the firm states that ion-photon entanglement to form a network node represents one of the most challenging milestones towards the deployment of interconnected QPUs.

“Such a node must [show] three key capabilities,” it says. “First, the node must have the ability to generate “interconnect photons” entangled with the interconnect qubit. Second, the node must be capable of sending these interconnect photons through fiber-optics to a detection hub. Lastly, the detection hub must be able to manipulate and measure the state of the interconnect photon to confirm ion-photon entanglement.”

In contrast to classical supercomputers, which distribute workloads across multiple cores and processors to operate in parallel, quantum networks entangle cores to form a single, more powerful quantum computer capable of running complex algorithms.

“Photonic interconnects will lead to integrated computation across quantum networks, not just communication between siloed parts as seen in classical setups,” explains IonQ.

“Photonic interconnects enable the entanglement of remote qubits across multiple, physical locations. Ions have unique advantages in the use of photons for networking - as the interactions between atoms and photons are a well-studied and understood area of quantum information science.”

Photonic scaling
As a result, says the firm, IonQ’s approach has always anticipated scaling its technology through photonic interconnects. The compatibility of ions with photonic networking is a core reason why it chose this particular approach to quantum computing in the first place.

“While the science and procedure behind photonic interconnects has been understood for years in a research setting, an important endeavor for IonQ has been transitioning this technology from a lab setting to commercial grade,” it said.

Pat Tang, IonQ’s VP of research and development, added: “This brings us one step closer to achieving commercial quantum advantage by running deeper, more complex circuits, and lays the foundation to develop future quantum applications and quantum networking solutions.”

The latest development comes a few months after IonQ extended its existing relationship with the US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) with a $25.5 million deal to deploy two quantum computing systems for quantum networking research.

In addition, earlier this month the company officially opened a new quantum data center facility near Seattle. The site is set to serve as its primary production engineering location in the US and house the firm’s growing research and manufacturing teams.

According to their most recent financial update, the IonQ executive team expects to report annual sales of around $22 million for 2023, alongside bookings in excess of $60 billion. However, in the first nine months of 2023 the firm also piled up an operating loss in excess of $100 million.

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