Quantum computing breakthrough: faster than the speed of business

The creation of a technology that did not exist

July 08, 2013— Burnaby, British Columbia

Dr. Geordie Rose is D-Wave's founder and Chief Technology Officer.

Dr. Geordie Rose is D-Wave's founder and Chief Technology Officer.

Creating technology that did not exist was a dream that Dr. Geordie Rose, founder and chief technology officer of Burnaby, British Columbia based D-Wave Systems Inc., turned into the world’s first commercially viable quantum computer. Their most recent sale will allow researchers at Google, NASA and the Universities Space Research Association to investigate its uses for both earthly and extraterrestrial purposes such as machine learning, web search, speech recognition, searching for planets outside the solar system and supporting operations in mission control centres.

“We are the first company to produce a computer that utilizes quantum mechanics to process and analyze data in certain types of problems thousands of times faster than classical computers,” says Warren Wall, D-Wave’s executive vice-president and chief operating officer. “This means that it can solve complex optimization problems in fractions of seconds—dramatically faster than was previously possible on any system.” Unlike conventional computers, which tackle problems by processing items one after another, quantum computers look at massive numbers of variables simultaneously. They not only find solutions with unprecedented speed, but also examine bigger issues not possible on classical systems.

“Quantum computing also addresses ‘big data’—such massive amounts of information being generated that our ability to parse through it and find correlations and connections is limited by current computing power,” says Wall. “The world needs an entirely new kind of computing resource to work on such immense obstacles. And quantum technology will take us to that next level.”

“We are really thankful to the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) for seeing the potential of our vision and supporting us all along—beginning with those tough startup days,” says Mr. Wall

From startup to global leader

According to Wall, D-Wave still considers itself a small business, even though it has grown from a handful of University of British Columbia physicists and researchers in 1999 to more than 80 staff who include world experts in computer science, physics, cryogenics, superconductors and machine learning. While the company has raised more than $100 million in investment capital, it continues to rely on venture funding and government programs to support ongoing research and development.

The D-Wave quantum computer

The D-Wave quantum computer requires a special cryogenic fridge with radio-frequency and magnetic shielding to provide the right environment for it to do its work. It is the coldest, quietest place in the known universe - colder than interstellar space.

“We are really thankful to the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) for seeing the potential of our vision and supporting us all along—beginning with those tough startup days,” he says. “Our Industrial Technology Advisor, Michael Alldritt, worked hard to understand our business and connect us with resources that helped us manage the company and accelerate our growth.”

Alldritt worked closely with D-Wave on a number of strategic projects that made a significant contribution to its success, beginning with early-stage planning and introductions to sources of financing including Industry Canada and the Department of National Defence. One of Alldritt’s early moves was to work with the Advanced Systems Institute of British Columbia and D-Wave to organize a three-day scientific conference in Vancouver with world-leading researchers in quantum computing. This helped D-Wave gain profile in the field and place the company and Canada on the global stage. Subsequent NRC-IRAP-supported projects have helped develop a software framework for the quantum computer’s hardware that demonstrates its superior ability to learn and solve problems. The framework allows users to work with the system and maximize its functionality and performance. This is a necessary part of educating potential buyers in the technology’s merits—a critical component in making sales.

The D-Wave quantum computer uses a 512-qubit processor

The D-Wave quantum computer uses a 512-qubit processor (qubits are units of quantum information).

Once the technology matured, D-Wave began to focus on the need to manage the timelines and resources needed to build the systems. To help with the logistics of managing the issues of inventory, scheduling, shipping, timing and costs, Alldritt enlisted the new Digital Technology Adoption Pilot Program (DTAPP which is delivered by NRC-IRAP) to install an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system capable of dealing with the intricacies of D-Wave’s business.

The possibilities for leveraging quantum technology are infinite, and Alldritt sees it changing how the world works. “It will open huge new areas in research and technology and lead to great advances in industry, energy, biology, finance, environment and more,” he notes. “And by solving our problems in quantum leaps, it will benefit humanity in ways never before imagined.”

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