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European Commission backs €1BN quantum technologies 'flagship'

17 May 2016

Digital Economy commissioner Günther Oettinger outlines plans for a major new innovation program at event in Delft.

Photonics technology development in Europe is set for a major boost with confirmation that the European Commission (EC) is planning to invest €1 billion in a new flagship research program on quantum technologies.

Günther Oettinger, the EC’s commissioner for the digital economy and society, outlined plans for the decade-long investment at the “Quantum Europe” conference taking place this week at the “QuTech” quantum research center in Delft.

Opening the event alongside the Dutch Minister for Economic Affairs Henk Kamp, Oettinger endorsed the so-called “quantum manifesto”, a strategy document signed by more than 3500 people involved in quantum technology research that lists some of the key application areas and calls for the billion-euro investment to start in 2018, as part of the EC’s Horizon 2020 innovation initiative.

Oettinger said: "Building on the strong support of the quantum manifesto, we aim to launch an ambitious, large-scale flagship initiative to unlock the full potential of quantum technologies, accelerate its development and bring commercial products to the consumer marketplace.”

“Europe wants to be leading in the global race of the development of quantum technology and we foster its take-up by industries. No single country can make it on its own, co-operation is essential to succeed. Now it is time to act together at European level to live up to this major European initiative".

Industrial influencers
Noting the presence of several influential industrialists representing the likes of Intel, ASML, Bosch and Microsoft at the Delft event, Kamp said: “It’s only by working together that we can speed up the development and application of quantum technology, and give Europe a leading role in the process.”

The minister added: “It’s clear that quantum technology will not only lead to major technological and scientific innovation, but will also have untold commercial potential. We can see that in the growth in investment by governments and companies all over the world.”

Kamp highlighted how the US had already launched a $360 million effort to develop a new kind of supercomputer to support defense activities, as well as the major investment by the UK government in its £270M Quantum Technology Network, an effort organized around four university-led development hubs.

“The Netherlands also sees great potential in quantum technology,” Kamp said. “In 2014 the Dutch government dubbed the QuTech research institute in Delft a ‘national icon’.”

With strong ties to the renowned TNO institute and other research hubs, the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and its public- and private-sector partners are investing some €250 million in QuTech over the next ten years.

“The goal is to create an ecosystem that attracts the best people in the world to take up the challenge to develop hardware and software needed for quantum computers,” said Kamp.

Making a difference
In a blog post published on the EC web site, Thierry van der Pyl from the organization’s science directorate wrote: “This quantum flagship initiative cannot be 'more science as usual'. It has to make a difference for Europe and for European industry and the next steps are essential in this context.”

Going on to outline those next steps, van der Pyl suggested that following European Council approval of the quantum technology plan later this month, a preparatory phase overseen by a high-level steering committee would start as soon as June.

That should result in a more detailed plan and governance and implementation models, in advance of a formal start date in 2018.

Among those forming the program committee for the Delft conference are some of the key participants in the UK’s quantum technology network, such as e2v technologies CTO Trevor Cross and Richard Murray, Innovate UK’s lead technologist for quantum technologies.

Manifesto goals
In the conclusions of the “manifesto” document presented to Oettinger in Delft, the authors call for the flagship initiative to combine education, science, engineering and entrepreneurship across Europe.

“To succeed, this initiative should aim, on the one hand, at consolidating Europe’s excellent position in research, keeping a broad scope and allowing the time it takes to achieve the basic results,” states the document. “On the other hand, it should engage with industry to unlock the full innovation potential of quantum technologies, thus accelerating their development and take-up by the market in order to deliver fully on their promising economic and societal benefits.”

Among the short-term (0-5 years out) goals identified in the manifesto are developments of more precise atomic clocks, and of quantum gravity and magnetic sensors – closely echoing the aims of the UK network.

Long-term goals (beyond 10 years) include creating a “quantum internet” connecting major European cities, on-chip quantum sensors inside mobile phones, gravitational imaging techniques, and even a “quantum credit card”.

But perhaps most ambitious of all is the desire to “build a universal quantum computer able to demonstrate the resolution of a problem that, with current techniques on a supercomputer, would take longer than the age of the universe”.

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