A ‘Dark Horse’ In The Quantum Computing Race Raises €100 Million

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Paris-based quantum computing startup PASQAL announced today it has raised €100 million in a Series B funding round, led by a new investor, Singapore-based Temasek. It was joined by the European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund, Wa’ed Ventures and Bpifrance, through its Large Venture Fund and existing investors Quantonation, the Defense Innovation Fund, Daphni and Eni Next. This brings PASQAL’s total funding to date to more than €140 million.

Founded in 2019 as a spin-off from Institut d’Optique, PASQAL develops quantum processors based on ordered neutral atoms in 2D and 3D arrays. Physics Today declared recently that “in the past five years, neutral atoms have emerged as dark horse candidates in the race to build a quantum computer.” Neutral atoms are considered a “dark horse” because the currently dominant—and most discussed—approaches to building quantum computers, championed by the likes of IBM, Google, and Intel (and numerous startups), are Superconducting Circuits and Trapped Ions.

Surveying the quantum computing landscape late last year, CB Insights (CBI) predicted that the startup ecosystem in this space will have in 2022 “a record-breaking year for both funding and deals.” CBI’s quantum computing market map highlights 102 companies organized by primary application, from hardware makers to developer tools to quantum-powered services for enterprises.

Among the quantum computer makers on the map, two are using neutral atoms to build their quantum processors. “This approach allows for relatively stable qubits—which are generally prone to very quickly shed the delicate properties needed for quantum computation—that can be packed close together on a chip, which these companies hope will make their processors easier to scale up,” explains the CBI report. In addition to PASQAL, it highlights another neutral atoms startup, California-based Atom Computing, which “has a 100-qubit machine and raised a $60M Series B extension round in January 2022.”

PASQAL’s technology is based on research conducted by Alain Aspect, its co-founder and the winner of the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics. The company believes this gives it a head-start in the race to deliver major commercial advantages over classical computers, and it hopes to do so by 2024. PASQAL plans to accelerate the company’s research and development efforts to build a 1,000-qubit quantum computer in the short term and fault-tolerant architectures in the long term.

The company also plans to increase the production of its quantum systems for on-premise installations as well as expand the development of proprietary algorithms for its customers across key verticals. Current customers include Crédit Agricole CIB, Siemens, BMW, Airbus, LG Electronics, Johnson & Johnson, Thales and BASF.

PASQAL announced recently the release of its Pulser Studio, the first no-code development platform for neutral atoms quantum computers; and a collaboration agreement with Professor Hannes Bernien at the University of Chicago to develop new techniques for enabling high-fidelity qubit control. This was the first collaboration for PASQAL with an American university.

As the analysts at Quantum Computing Report (QCR) observed, the first nine funding rounds for quantum startups in 2023 all happened outside of the U.S. This year, says QCR, “may shape up to be an uneven year with some companies or some geographies doing better than others.”

Global Quantum Intelligence (GQI) concluded in its Quantum Hardware 2023 report that “The reality is that today’s devices are not yet anywhere near as good as we need them to be: the smaller devices are not large enough to move beyond the reach of classical simulation; the larger devices are not able to sustain the quality we need. The potential roadblocks we face in scaling up current designs vary by qubit platform, but are significant.”

The search is on for a practical, working quantum computer that can better decode real-world challenges than classical computers. The interest in finding out where and how quantum computing can make a difference is growing and so is the investment in this emerging technology by enterprises worldwide.

The recent Zapata Computing survey of large enterprises found that 29% of the respondents classified themselves as early quantum adopters, and 4% as advanced quantum adopters; 6% reported already achieving a competitive advantage through the use of quantum computing and 30% thought they will gain a competitive advantage through the use of quantum computing within the next 12 months. Other recent surveys have also found increased experimentation with quantum computing by companies in a wide range of industries, testing a variety of applications.

PASQAL’s work with its customers illustrates this rising enterprise movement of let’s-see-what-this-mysterious-technology-can-do-for-us. BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, is exploring how PASQAL’s technology can be used to predict weather patterns, while BMW is leveraging PASQAL’s algorithms to simplify complex simulations that can be used for crash testing and development of lighter parts and materials. PASQAL’s research project with Crédit Agricole CIB, the world’s largest cooperative financial institution, showed that quantum computing can solve complex financial optimization problems as accurately as classical computers.

“This funding round validates that neutral atom technology is a premier platform for delivering real-world quantum applications, and we are proud to see its potential recognized by top investors,” Georges-Olivier Reymond, CEO and co-founder of PASQAL, said in statement.

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