Oxford Ionics doubles performance of previous quantum chip world record

UK-based startup Oxford Ionics today announced a significant achievement for its ion-trapped quantum processors, demonstrating over twice the performance of the previous world record — without using error correction. 

While not providing exact numbers, Oxford Ionics says it used “10x less” qubits than its competitors, and set the performance record for both single-qubit and two-qubit gate operations. Furthermore, its chips can be manufactured in existing semiconductor facilities. 

Quantum technologies have seen tremendous evolution over the past couple of years. More than one giant breakthrough, there has been an incremental accumulation of developments from many different sources. 

While it is too early to say which technologies and advancements will be pivotal, many may prove important to moving quantum computing into the utility era, where it could introduce staggering benefits to a range of industries and solve problems impossible for classical computers.  

However, every now and then things also happen that can be classified as a big leap. Such as Oxford Ionics’ impressive ion-trapped quantum chip feat. 

Scaling ion-trapped qubits

Qubits are the fundamental units of quantum information. These can be made using various different systems that exhibit quantum mechanical properties. 

Ion-trapped qubits are atoms with one of their electrons removed. While showing tremendous promise for fault-tolerant quantum computing, they have been tricky to scale as they are normally controlled using laser pulses. This introduces higher error rates when attempting to scale the machines to larger numbers of qubits. 

However, Oxford Ionics says it has solved the scalability problem by using a patented embedded Electronic Qubit Control (EQC) system in its chips. This approach, the startup says, allows it to combine the quantum performance of individual atoms with the scalability and reliability of electronics integrated into silicon chips. 

“The industry’s biggest players have taken different paths towards the goal of making quantum computing a reality,” said Dr Chris Balance, the company’s CEO and co-founder. “From the outset, we have taken a ‘rocket ship’ approach — focusing on building robust technology by solving the really difficult challenges first,”

Balance founded Oxford Ionics in 2019, along with Dr Tom Harty, the company’s CTO. Since then, the startup has hit every target on its roadmap. “We are now able to focus on the commercialisation of our technology and delivering useful quantum computing at scale,” the CEO said.  

Oxford Ionics also recently won a £6mn contract to supply a full-stack quantum computer named Quartet to the UK’s National Quantum Computing Centre (NQCC) in Harwell, Oxfordshire. This will be the company’s fifth quantum computer. The other four are located at its headquarters in Oxford and available through the cloud

Oxford vs Cambridge

The previous world record for ion-trapped qubit chip performance was, as far as we can glean, held by Quantinuum, a merger between Cambridge Quantum and Honeywell Quantum Solutions. That record was announced just a little over a month ago, on June 5, which demonstrates the current momentum of the technology. 

Both companies highlight that they focus on quality over quantity in their qubit scalability quest. And they are not the only ones developing quantum processors based on ion-trapped qubits. 

Others who have chosen this particular technological pathway are US-based IonQ, Switzerland’s Alpine Quantum Technologies, and Germany’s Quantum Factory. Today’s news is with certainty not the last we have heard from this ion-trapped race.

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