ESCHER: Establishing Supply Chains for Emergent Quantum Computers

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics


A key pillar of the UK National Quantum Technology Programme is the drive towards practical quantum computing devices. This grand challenge, being pursued by commercial and academic institutions globally, has potentially far reaching economic and social implications. The Networked Quantum Information Technologies (NQIT) hub aims to develop networks of trapped ion microprocessors with optical interconnects as a route to fault tolerant quantum computing. The scale of the task for researchers and companies in the field is formidable yet a clear pathway exists for the necessary incremental engineering steps towards this goal. Demonstrations to date have validated the underlying concepts, yet the level of scalability required to deliver, for instance, a universal quantum computer will require groundbreaking developments in quantum hardware engineering. This will inevitably require supply chains to emerge and mature along with the leading developers and researchers in the field.
Currently, the groups pushing the limits of a variety of quantum computing and networking disciplines are reliant on bespoke hardware, not widely available and with a high manufacturing overhead. The market opportunity that the partners seek to address, is to position themselves at the core of the emerging supply chain network for a variety of quantum computing and quantum information processing devices. For M Squared Lasers (MSL), this market opportunity will begin with key subsystem supply to their existing worldwide customer base, with whom they are already working closely. The long-term opportunity comes from moving towards vertical integration building upon a wide collaborative network and system integration capabilities. Similarly Covesion (COV) will play a key role in the supply of critical optical components, starting here with nonlinear frequency conversion crystals and waveguide devices for the proposed single photon sources and quantum frequency converters. NQIT is the main research and development effort in the UK pushing quantum computing technologies from the lab to the marketplace. NQIT is therefore ideally placed to work with MSL and COV on developing a supply chain for quantum computing which meets the advanced engineering demands of this emerging sector.
The current state-of-the-art for the targeted technologies are complex lab-built devices created ad hoc for specific experiments. The partners have relevant experience in the targeted areas and through the proposed formal collaboration, can create two new product lines that will find applicability in a variety of quantum computing applications.
The core of the developments will be: existing product lines at MSL, namely the Sprite XT ultrafast laser and Ice Bloc modular electronics platform; the PPLN product line at COV; existing experience and demonstrations of single photon and quantum frequency converters in the quantum information group at the University of Oxford; lithium niobate waveguide design knowhow from the University of Southampton and extensive experience and knowhow relating to stable, low-noise DC drive electronics for addressing scalable ion trap arrays at the Ion QT group at the University of Sussex.

Planned Impact

The impacts of ESCHER will be wide reaching from the outset and will support the establishment of an entirely new industry over the next decade with major economic benefits both up- and downstream. The impacts of ESCHER will predominately be economic. With the growth of the Quantum Information sector the importance of the establishing supply chains within the UK economy at an early stage in the sector's life cycle is anticipated to be of critical importance to the nation's economic competitiveness in the coming decades. The planned work will help accelerate investment and foster an ecosystem that will be a major contributor to the overall competitiveness of, not only the native quantum computing field, but also the myriad of industries that are well positioned to benefit from future developments. With >30% CAGR the scale of investment and opportunity is extensive. Currently the North American share of this market and the associated supply chains is 49%, whilst the Asia-Pacific region is projected to grow rapidly as the technology and markets mature. The risk for the UK sector is to be left behind or become reliant on imports of critical components and subsystems. This would hinder the development and adoption of UK-built quantum computing technologies. Reinforcing the native supply for systems and applications will increase the impact of the sector on the anticipated outcomes in healthcare, finance, logistics and industrial process optimisation. As a current supplier to the research sector working on quantum computing MSL has a range of preferred local suppliers of raw materials and components, who stand to benefit from the proposed supply chain developments. This will have spillover effects for job creation and security for the suppliers and the local economies within which they are situated. To calibrate the external economic benefits we can evaluate the impact along the value chains that will emerge from the project. The supply chains for the commercial partners' operations, including raw material, components & electronics will see an additional ~4 jobs created upstream from the consortium over 5 years, around 90% of which are UK-based. The establishment of a strong UK supply chain in this area will strengthen the native expertise in this area whilst systems based on components from preferred local suppliers will drive efficiency in the value chain.
Downstream value creation will begin with research usage but soon gain wider reach as outputs are deployed widely within quantum computing and quantum information processing.
There are a myriad of social benefits that practical quantum computing could enable over the next decades. The prospects for quantum simulations could be significant for a variety of fields including research-intensive pharmaceutical development. The Tufts Centre for the Study of Drug Development calculates that the average cost of delivering a new drug to the approval stage is $2.6b. This represents a 145% increase on a decade earlier. The opportunity to drastically reduce this figure through complex simulation and reduction of the need for physical development of substances with a high failure rate.


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Description The project focused on the fabrication of single photon sources for quantum information processing and components that allow the colour of light to be changed from one wavelength to another. These can be used to connect different types of quantum information bits ('qubits') together.
Exploitation Route The components created can be applied to a number of different quantum computing architectures, by both academic groups and commercial organisations.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)

Description The characterisation of the industrial partner's wavelength conversion components has assisted with their knowledge of these, potentially enabling further development.
First Year Of Impact 2019
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software)
Impact Types Economic