Quantum physics is at the heart of the modern world. It has given us the electronics that underpin telecommunications and media, computing and the control systems that govern our infrastructure and transport. Quantum technologies are optical and electronic devices that use quantum effects to significantly enhance the performance of existing, ‘classical’ technologies.
There is now mounting evidence that a new generation of quantum technologies are ready to transition into commercial products. These technologies are expected to have a profound impact on many of the world’s largest markets. This includes enhancing the £305.6 billion global semiconductor industry and the $2.5 trillion world oil and gas industry. Other areas include enabling 5G communications for mobile devices. They could also lead to faster and more efficient construction projects, with reduced delays – workers could use quantum sensor technology to identify pipelines and underground obstructions before starting work.
The UK is one of the world’s major investors in quantum research and has developed a vibrant academic ecosystem over the last couple of decades. Recent scientific advances, together with novel engineering and manufacturing capability, make the UK a fertile landscape to drive quantum technologies towards commercialisation.
“The UK quantum programme has been designed to stay at the forefront of international developments through a deeply collaborative working style. This links all players from the academic, industrial and governmental sectors, to ensure all possible synergies are harnessed and all barriers to exploitation are removed.”
This week Quantum Business spoke to Kai Bongs, Director of the UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Metrology. We spoke to Kai about the UK quantum landscape today and the roadmap for commercialising quantum technologies. Kai reveals that the central objective of the hub is to create and demonstrate new innovation pathways to accelerate the transition from blue sky discovery to economic and social benefit. He believes that the strength of the UK’s academic and industrial ecosystem is fundamental to sustained success.
The UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Metrology is one of four hubs set up as part of the UK national quantum technologies programme – a £270 million investment to kickstart the commercialisation of quantum technologies for business. Kai leads a hub that incorporates the universities of Birmingham, Glasgow, Nottingham, Southampton, Strathclyde, and Sussex. “We are deeply engaged with 43 distinct companies, each of whom have invested their own real cash resources to work with the hub to be apart of this journey”, Kai reveals.
However, this is just the beginning. Kai tells us that the hub is in discussion with over 100 further companies: “they are ready to engage as our technology progresses through the hub and hub partners to commercial application.”
“Most importantly we have set up the hub to create a focal point for the entire industrial supply chain”
“Our scientists are working with the component and systems manufacturers to transfer the know how to build quantum sensors and set up the supply chain. Our engineers and applied scientists engage with the service provider and end user parts of the industrial sector, assisting in the creation of data and surveying services based on quantum sensors and demonstrating how they can bring benefit to the end-user. This focal point created by the hub has enabled an entire industrial ecosystem to flourish around it, with a network of Quantum Technology suppliers, providers, integrators and users developing around it, which is deeply embedded in the UK economy.”
Quantum Sensors and Metrology
The UK National Quantum Technology Hub in Sensors and Metrology focusses on sensor and metrology applications of superposition, involving combinations of atoms, light, and matter. These sensors can be applied in a diverse range of industries including Navigation and global positioning, Defence, Aerospace and Space, Archaeology, geophysics and surveying, Healthcare and biomedical research, Communications and IT, Metrology, Consumer electronics.
“Quantum Technologies will provide an immense opportunity to create a better world for everyone.”
“My field Quantum Sensors and Metrology will allow us to extend what we can sense into the vast unknowns of the underground and the human body and open up unprecedented ways to increase productivity in infrastructure projects, assess and manage global water resources or diagnose the heart and brain.”
Kai reveals that the field will also allow us to measure tiny differences in time, rotation or light; “this will enable a new generation of air control radar to tackle the challenges of the sky filling with drones, keep even highest speed broadband communications in sync and navigate in environments without access to satellite navigation.”
The Race For Quantum Computing
We asked Kai about his perspective on the implications and applications of a quantum computer. The general consensus among experts is that an advanced machine is at least a decade away. “In my perspective the quantum computer is intriguing by its capability to solve some currently unsolvable problems. For the first time we would be able to calculate all quantum mechanical problems; this would make the large-scale chemistry and materials accessible to full calculations and optimisation.”
Researchers predict that the potential use cases are diverse and include more efficient quantum-chemistry calculations that would revolutionize the development of pharmaceuticals, catalytic converters, solar cells and fertilizers. Kai believes that over the next decade these will be the first interesting economic applications for industry. However he admits that we are at the start of a long journey.
“There might still be a lot of surprises in which technology might eventually make the race – it is therefore hard to make predictions. My view is that the development of algorithms needs to be looked at very carefully, as this is where much of the value generation will sit in the future and it is also what will create the market pull to drive investments to accelerate technology.”
What Are Your Objectives?
“The success I am most proud of is the establishment of a new seamless way in which academia works with all layers of industry and government, ranging from scientific discovery via applied researchers, component manufacturers, systems integrators and data service providers to the end-user.”
“This is currently most visible in the gravity gradient sensor innovation chain we have established reaching out via civil engineering to brownfield site development, rail deployment and underground infrastructure assessment. One story has been to open up new ways of looking at brain functionality for the diagnosis of brain diseases by our Hub partners in Nottingham, which has recently been published in Nature.”
“The main objectives in the short term will be the development of the programme for the next phase of UK Quantum Technologies in Sensors and Timing. In a few months, we will launch our Quantum Sensors roadmap for a new level of discussion and engagement with the systems integrator and end-user world of the economy.”
Written by Hal Briggs from Quantum Business