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Honeywell’s Ion Trap Quantum Computer Makes Big Leap

Superior qubits key to rapid increase in power

2 min read
Honeywell’s computer uses ytterbium ions trapped in an electromagnetic field in a narrow groove built in a chip.
An electromagnetic field traps ions in a line at the center of this chip where they act as qubits.
Photo: Honeywell

Honeywell may be a giant industrial technology firm, but it’s definitely not synonymous with advanced computing. Yet the company has made a ten-year commitment to developing an inhouse quantum computing, and it is about to start paying back.

“We expect within next three months we will be releasing world’s most powerful quantum computer,” says Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell Quantum Solutions. It’s the kind of claim competitors like IBM and Google have made periodically, but with Honeywell there’s a difference. Those others, using superconducting components chilled to near absolute zero, have been racing to cram more and more qubits onto a chip, Google reached its “quantum supremacy” milestone with 53 qubits. Uttley says Honeywell can beat it with a handful of its ion qubits.

CryogenicsThe ion-trap is placed in a refrigerator under vacuum.Photo: Honeywell

Uttley is measuring its success using a relatively new metric pushed by IBM and called quantum volume. It’s essentially a measure of the number of physical qubits, how connected they are, and how error prone they are. IBM claimed a leading quantum volume of 32 using a 28-qubit system in early January. Honeywell’s four-qubit system reached 16, and it will hit 64 in coming months, says Uttley

The company has an ambitious path toward rapid expansion after that. “We expect to be on a trajectory to increase quantum volume 10-fold every year for the next five years,” he says. IBM is planning to double its figure every year.

Honeywell’s computer uses ytterbium ions trapped in an electromagnetic field in a narrow groove built in a chip. The qubit relies on the spin state of the ion’s outermost electron and that of its nucleus. This can be manipulated by lasers and can hold its state—remain coherent—for a fairly long time compared to other types of qubits. Importantly, the qubits can be moved around on the trap chip, allowing them to interact in ways that produce quantum algorithms

“We chose trapped ions because we believe in these early days of quantum computing, quality of qubit is going to matter most,” says Uttley. 

chamberHoneywell’s experience with vacuum technology was an asset.Photo: Honeywell

Honeywell is claiming qubits that are so free from corruption that they’ve achieved a first, a a “mid-circuit” measurement. That is, the system can interrogate the state of a qubit during a computation without damaging the states of the others, and, based on that observed qubit, it can change what the rest of the computation does. “It’s equivalent to an ‘if’ statement,” explains Uttley. Mid-circuit measurements are not currently possible in other technologies. “It’s theoretically possible,” he says. “But practically speaking, it will be a point of differentiation [for Honeywell] for a while.”

Ion-trap quantum systems were first developed at the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology in the 1990s. In 2015, a veteran of that group Chris Monroe cofounded the ion-trap quantum computer company IonQ. IonQ has already fit 160 ytterbium-based qubits in its system and performed operations on 79 of them. The startup has published several tests of its system, but not a quantum volume measure.

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Why Functional Programming Should Be the Future of Software Development

It’s hard to learn, but your code will produce fewer nasty surprises

11 min read
A plate of spaghetti made from code
Shira Inbar

You’d expectthe longest and most costly phase in the lifecycle of a software product to be the initial development of the system, when all those great features are first imagined and then created. In fact, the hardest part comes later, during the maintenance phase. That’s when programmers pay the price for the shortcuts they took during development.

So why did they take shortcuts? Maybe they didn’t realize that they were cutting any corners. Only when their code was deployed and exercised by a lot of users did its hidden flaws come to light. And maybe the developers were rushed. Time-to-market pressures would almost guarantee that their software will contain more bugs than it would otherwise.

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