In 2013, Rigetti Computing began its efforts to manufacture quantum computers. This effort could bear serious fruit starting in 2023, the company announced on Friday.
Indeed, next year the Berkeley, Calif.-based company plans to ship both its fourth-generation machine, called Ankaa, and an expanded model called Lyra. The company hopes these machines will usher in a “quantum advantage,” when radically different machines become devices that deliver results beyond the reach of conventional computers, said Rigetti founder and chief executive Chad Rigetti.
Quantum computers rely on the weird physics of ultra-small things like atoms and photons to perform calculations that aren’t practical on conventional computer processors that power smartphones, laptops and data centers. Proponents hope quantum computers will lead to more powerful vehicle batteries, new drugs, more efficient package delivery, more efficient artificial intelligence and other breakthroughs.
Until now, quantum computers are very expensive research projects. Rigetti, however, is part of a large group scrambling to be the first to gain a quantum advantage. This includes tech giants like IBM, Google, Baidu and Intel and specialists like Quantinuum, IonQ, PsiQuantum, Pasqal and Silicon Quantum Computing.
“This is the new space race,” Rigetti said in an exclusive interview ahead of the company’s first Investor Day.
For the event, the company is revealing more details about its full suite of technologies, including manufacturing, hardware, applications its computers will run, and cloud services to reach customers. “We’re building the complete rocket,” Rigetti said.
Although Rigetti is not a household name, he carries weight in this world. In February, Rigetti raised $262 million and became one of the few publicly traded quantum computing companies. Although the company has been clear that its quantum computing business is a long-term plan, investors have grown more skeptical. Its share price has fallen about three-quarters since its IPO, most recently when Rigetti announced the postponement of a $4 million US government contract that would have accounted for a large chunk of the company’s annual revenue. company of about 12 to 13 million dollars.
Quantum computers with more qubits
The company, however, says it has the right long-term approach. It starts in early 2023 with Ankaa, a processor that includes 84 qubits, the fundamental data processing element in a quantum computer. Four of them together are the basis of Lyra, a 336-qubit machine. The names are astronomical: Ankaa is a star and Lyra is a constellation.
Rigetti doesn’t promise a quantum advantage from the 336-qubit machine, but that’s the company’s hope. “We think it’s absolutely within the realm of possibility,” Rigetti said.
Having more qubits is crucial for the more sophisticated algorithms needed for quantum advantage. Rigetti hopes that customers in the financial, automotive and government sectors will be willing to pay for this quantum computing power. Automakers could seek out new battery technologies and optimize their complex manufacturing operations, and financial services companies are always looking for better ways to spot trends and make business decisions, Rigetti said.
Rigetti plans to link its Ankaa modules to larger machines: a 1,000-qubit computer in 2025 and a 4,000-qubit model in 2027.
Rigetti isn’t the only company trying to build a rocket, however. IBM has a 127-qubit quantum computer today, with plans for a 433-qubit model in 2023 and over 4,000 qubits in 2025. Although the number of qubits is only a measure of utility of a quantum computer, this is an important factor.
“What Rigetti does in terms of qubits is nothing compared to IBM,” said Paul Smith-Goodson, analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
Rigetti’s Quantum Computing Offerings
Alongside these machines, Rigetti expects developments in manufacturing, including an ongoing 5,000 square foot expansion of the Fremont, Calif. chip manufacturing facility, enhancements to patching technology errors needed to perform more than the most ephemeral quantum computing calculations, and better software and services for customers to actually use its machines.
To achieve its objectives, Rigetti also announced four new deals at its investor event:
- Graphics and AI chip giant Nvidia has started a partnership to marry quantum and conventional computing to improve climate modeling
- Microsoft’s Azure cloud service will provide access to Rigetti machines
- Bluefors will build new refrigerators to accommodate the 1,000 and 4,000 qubit systems, a key technology partnership since its machines need to be cooled almost to absolute zero
- Keysight Technologies will offer its technology to reduce quantum computing error rates, a critical step in performing more complex calculations
Qubits are easily perturbed, so dealing with errors is essential to advancing quantum computing. A better foundation is therefore less prone to errors. Quantum computer makers track this with a metric called gate fidelity. Rigetti is at 95% to 97% fidelity today, but prototypes of its fourth-generation Ankaa-based systems showed 99%, Rigetti said.
In analyst Smith-Goodson’s eyes, quantum computing will eventually become useful, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about how and when we’ll get there.
“Everyone is working towards a million-qubit machine,” he said. “We don’t know which technology is really going to be the one that’s actually going to do that.”