January 04, 2023

Quantum-as-a-service startups are bringing sci-fi computing to the masses


Investment into European quantum computing startups is booming. According to data from Dealroom, they raised over $290m in 2022, almost double their total from the previous year. And this year could be a whole lot bigger.

While companies like IQM (one of Europe’s largest quantum startups) focus on developing the hardware for quantum computers, others are focusing on making the technology accessible to businesses.

Quantum-as-a-service startups give clients access to quantum computing, often through cloud services. And their popularity has taken off fast.

“Two years ago they didn’t know where to even get started with quantum computing. Now we see more and more companies with existing quantum experience in-house,” says Ilana Wisby, CEO of Oxford Quantum Circuits — the first startup to offer cloud access to its quantum computers in Europe through Amazon Web Services.

Quantum computers are still in early stages of development — the largest quantum processors just have a few hundred qubits (the quantum equivalent of a classical computer bit) and the technology is still prone to calculation errors. But that isn’t deterring big players from using the technology now. 

“Quantum computing is inevitable, and people know it will impact their businesses. They want to be ready and have a first-mover advantage when more powerful quantum computing hardware becomes available,” Wisby says.

So what can quantum computers actually do?

The quantum computers that exist today have limited capacity, but they’re already being put to use to help companies with some of the biggest problems they face.

Finance is one of the biggest applications for quantum computing. Experts are hoping that the technology can optimise investment portfolios and boost returns by millions.

Swiss company Terra Quantum has developed quantum algorithms that can optimise portfolios of collateral investments. Compared to classical approaches, the algorithm was 10 times faster and improved the portfolio’s performance by six basis points — for a European bank posting €400bn in collateral, that would translate to a return around €240m a year better, says Terra Quantum’s CEO Markus Pflitsch.

“The mainstream narrative is that quantum will only be disruptive in the future,” Pflitsch tells Sifted. “But we are already in a position to tackle meaningful use cases today.”

Like many other quantum providers, Terra Quantum uses a hybrid approach that combines quantum and classical algorithms to make the most of what each type of computer is best at doing. This allows the company to get faster, more accurate results than using just classical computers.

Quantum algorithms are particularly good at optimisation problems. For example, Terra Quantum is working on a pilot programme helping a logistics company optimise the routes of fleets comprising thousands of trucks — which may be able to significantly reduce CO2 emissions.

“Logistics, aerospace, energy companies… all industries require solutions for large optimisation problems,” says Marta Estarellas, senior quantum engineer at Qilimanjaro, a Spanish quantum-as-a-service startup.

Classical computers take too long to solve these problems, meaning that companies often have to settle for simplifying their optimisation problems and obtaining less accurate results. “With a quantum computer the solution is exact, not an approximation,” Estarellas tells Sifted.

Another application of quantum computing is “predictive maintenance” — Spanish quantum startup Multiverse Computing has been working with Bosch to predict where supply chains are going to fail and optimise when and where maintenance is needed. The company is also using this approach to help a hospital in Barcelona predict which patients are going to require attention in the next 20 minutes and optimise the use of its ICU beds.

To democratise access to quantum computing, Multiverse Computing has developed a platform called Singularity that can perform quantum computations from a spreadsheet, says CEO Enrique Lizaso.

“If you are a financial analyst, you want to use this tool without having to learn about quantum computing, pay for a quantum computer or allocate any extra time or resources to it,” he tells Sifted.

Quantum computing can also increase the efficiency of machine learning algorithms and significantly reduce the massive amounts of energy they require to sort through data. According to Lizaso, quantum computing has the potential to run machine learning algorithms with 25 times less electricity. 

Read full article by Sifted here.