* Canadian company D-Wave lands $30 million investment
* Firm says technology has applications for drug
* Debate continues over what defines quantum computing
By Sarah McBride
SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 4 D-Wave Systems, a
Vancouver-based company that aims to develop quantum-computing
applications, said on Thursday it had received $30 million in
funding from investors including the firm that manages Amazon
founder Jeff Bezos's venture investments and an investment arm
of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The investments, from Bezos Expeditions and In-Q-Tel, mark a
vote of confidence in the potential for practical applications
for the emerging technology underpinning quantum computing.
Advocates say the controversial technology works orders of
magnitude faster than classical computing and has the potential
to revolutionize fields such as drug development. It has
remained mainly an academic concept since its introduction 30
years ago, but investors see new commercial opportunities.
Last year, D-Wave sold a $10 million superconducting-based
quantum computer to Lockheed Martin, which installed it
at the University of Southern California. This year, it hopes to
sell a much more powerful version.
It is also marketing its own quantum-computing capability to
other companies, which can tap into D-Wave's facilities using
cloud computing, or remote servers. D-Wave chief executive Vern
Brownell describes it as infrastructure-as-a-service, adding the
company inked its first contract in the area a few weeks ago.
The company's technology is controversial in the scientific
community, in part because D-Wave places a premium on working at
large-scale rather than perfect error correction.
Some scientists question whether it is quantum computing at
all, but D-Wave Brownell dismisses the skeptics.
"It's very simple to determine if you've built a quantum
computer or not," he says. "If your machine is running a quantum
algorithm - that is, a problem solving a procedure forbidden by
the laws of classical physics but permitted by quantum mechanics
- it's a quantum computer."
Quantum computing as his company handles it is useful only
in certain areas, Brownell said. He sees the main applications
for D-Wave as defense and intelligence, bio-informatics,
analytics for large Internet companies such as Google, which
works with D-Wave on projects such as teaching machines to
recognize images of cars, and financial services.
Currently, researchers at the University of Southern
California are still testing the D-Wave computer's quantum
capabilities to verify that it works faster and more efficiently
than classical computing, said USC engineer Sergio Boxio.
They are working on areas such as machine learning,
including improving the efficiency of solar cells, general
computer-science problems such as complex scheduling, and
minimizing errors in encoded messages such as those sent between
a mobile phone and a tower.
For Lockheed, the hope is that D-Wave's technology can one
day handle software verification and validation much faster than
the company can do it now-a big task for a company that must
exhaustively test for bugs every time it, say, updates software
in flight-navigation systems.
Others are working on quantum-computing technology with more
IBM, for example, has dedicated researchers in the field at
a research facility in Yorktown Heights, NY, working on
superconducting-based quantum technology. IBM uses a different
technique compared with D-Wave's adiabatic process, which means
there is no heat transfer.
Earlier this year, IBM's researchers announced a
breakthrough that lengthened the lifespan of quantum bits of
information and made the technology work faster, with less
Meanwhile, researchers at Cambridge University announced a
breakthrough in another variety of quantum-computer technology
that relies on lasers.
Scientists at institutions including the National Institute
of Standards and Technology are working on an ion-based
quantum-computing technology. Other organizations are exploring
quantum computing based on nuclear magnetic resonance.
"Over the next few years, we'll probably learn a lot more
about which system is the front-runner," said Matthias Steffen,
manager of IBM's experimental quantum computing group. "It's too
early to tell."