IBM unveils first quantum computer for commercial use

Written by Peter Walker

At the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show, IBM has unveiled Q System One, the world's first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use.

IBM Q systems are designed to one day tackle problems that are currently seen as too complex and exponential in nature for classical systems to handle. Future applications of quantum computing may include finding new ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments, or finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics for deliveries.

The computer has a sophisticated, modular and compact design for stability, reliability and continuous commercial use, enabling universal approximate superconducting beyond the research lab.

IBM assembled a team of industrial designers, architects and manufacturers to work alongside IBM Research scientists and systems engineers to design the machine, including UK industrial and interior design studios Map Project Office and Universal Design Studio.

Together these collaborators designed the first quantum system to consolidate thousands of components into a glass-enclosed, air-tight environment built specifically for business use.

This integrated system aims to address one of the most challenging aspects of quantum computing: continuously maintaining the quality of qubits used to perform quantum computations.

Powerful yet delicate, qubits quickly lose their special quantum properties, typically within 100 microseconds (for state-of-the-art superconducting qubits), due in part to the interconnected machinery's ambient noise of vibrations, temperature fluctuations and electromagnetic waves.

The design of IBM Q System One includes a nine-foot-tall, nine-foot-wide case of half-inch thick borosilicate glass forming a sealed, airtight enclosure that opens using ‘roto-translation’, a motor-driven rotation around two displaced axes engineered to simplify the system's maintenance and upgrade process while minimising downtime.

A series of independent aluminum and steel frames unify, but also decouple the system's cryostat, control electronics and exterior casing, helping to avoid potential vibration interference that leads to ‘phase jitter’ and qubit decoherence.

The IBM Q Quantum Computation Center, opening later this year in Poughkeepsie, New York, will expand the IBM Q Network commercial quantum computing program, which already includes systems at the Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown, New York.

This will house some of the world's most advanced cloud-based quantum computing systems, accessible to members of the IBM Q Network, a worldwide community of Fortune 500 companies, startups, academic institutions, and national research labs working to advance quantum computing and explore practical applications for business and science.

"The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialisation of quantum computing," said Arvind Krishna, senior vice president of Hybrid Cloud and director of IBM Research. "This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science."