Quantum computers: A turning point in the network – Hamburg is there

QQuantum computers will fundamentally expand the possibilities to implement highly complex calculations much faster than is possible today. Hamburg wants to be at the forefront internationally in the development and market launch of this technology. An important forum for this is the new cooperation between the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and other partners with the semiconductor manufacturer NXP Semiconductors at its location in Hamburg-Lokstedt.

“DLR is creating a new competence center here in our house. This creates optimal conditions for a direct exchange between our employees and the experts of all other participants in this research project,” said Lars Reger of WELT, Germany head of NXP Semiconductors and at the group level also research director. “DLR will probably have six to eight workstations here with test setups for quantum computers. The first computer will probably be operational by the end of 2023.”

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A total of around 209 million euros will flow into DLR’s quantum computer initiative over the four-year project period. According to Reger, 150 to 200 employees of all those involved in the project are expected to work in Lokstedt. The composition of the teams will change depending on the task at hand: “But basically we are creating the nucleus for this new high-tech here. The location Hamburg will this have an international pull effect when it comes to recruiting highly qualified experts.”

quantum computer will be able to calculate about 100 million times faster than today’s computers, which work on purely binary logic. This brings considerable advantages, for example when creating models for climate development. However, the companies and research institutes involved also expect a large commercial market for the applications of the computers, for example in the pharmaceutical industry for calculating test series or in the logistics sector.

“To put it very simply, a conventional, binary computer works with a specific sequence of positively and negatively charged atoms, the bits and bites on which the software is based,” says Reger. “A quantum computer works by ‘marking’ certain atoms. All of their states of motion can then be used for computing power, not just a static ‘positive’ or ‘negative’, ‘zero’ or ‘one’ Center ARIC for the development of artificial intelligence”.

Hamburg’s Senate supports the development of the quantum computer in a variety of ways, with the expansion of existing and the construction of new research facilities or with the acquisition of research funds from the federal government and the European Union. “Quantum computers will lead us into a new age of the digital world, they offer enormous potential. We’re talking about a game changer here. That’s why it’s so important to be part of this innovation and to help shape the path,” said Economics Senator Michael Westhagemann (independent) of WELT.

“In Hamburg we showed that we can build networks and pool competencies within a very short space of time and enable grants. In order to achieve our ambitious goals, we need talent, startups and courageous technology companies like NXP Semiconductors.” He is “proud of how quickly we brought science, research, business and administration together on the subject of quantum computing”.

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A physicist holds a quantum processor in his hand.

When building the first prototypes, the companies and research institutions involved are taking different international approaches. “US manufacturers such as Google and IBM are primarily focusing on superconducting materials in their research and development work for the quantum computer,” said Reger. “We are pursuing a different approach, the fixation of individual atoms. For this we need a temperature below ten Kelvin on a quantum computer, which is about minus 260 degrees Celsius.”

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NXP Semiconductors has the foreseeable market for the production of the new computers in mind: “Our goal is to later be able to supply the potential manufacturers of quantum computers with our technology – with quantum chips, photon detectors, security systems such as algorithms for encryption and much more,” said reg. “But we don’t want to become the system integrator or overall manufacturer of quantum computers ourselves. Companies like Google and IBM are working on such devices today – but there may also be completely new companies that make and sell quantum computers.”

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“With this technology, there is a gold rush atmosphere”

The international research and development of quantum computers is very dynamic: “There is a gold rush atmosphere with this technology. There are many start-up companies that deal with all the challenges related to quantum computers,” said Reger. “But I guess there aren’t that many more centers around the world today, around 50, where sufficient expertise, resources and ideal conditions for the further development of quantum computers come together.”

Today’s prototypes of quantum computers are “between a large desktop computer and a washing machine,” said Reger. “It mostly depends on the cooling and vacuum technology around it that you need to run these machines.”

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Because of their high sensitivity, quantum computers require a special and secure environment – which is why the computers will probably only be found in research and large-scale commercial use in the coming years: “I don’t think that such computers will be used in a domestic application before the next decade will be able to use.”

Reger sees starting points for his own product contributions to future quantum computers, above all, in their connection with the outside world: “A quantum computer is a high-performance computer, but ultimately these computers must also be connected to a ‘conventional’ environment of digital end devices used today,” he said. “We will also be involved in the development and production of these interfaces. Because these interfaces will be based on today’s semiconductor technology.”

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