February 2, 2023

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Pasqal raises $100 million to build neutral atom-based quantum computer • TechCrunch

Pasqal, a Paris-based quantum computing startup, announced today that it has secured a $100 million Series B funding round leased from Singapore-based Temasek. In addition to Temasek, existing investors Quantonation, Defense Innovation Fund, Daphni and Eni Next, and new investors European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund, Wa’ed Ventures and Bpifrance (through its Large Venture Fund) also participated in this round.

Founded in early 2019, what sets Pasqal apart in a growing field of quantum computing startups is that the company is committed to neutral-atom quantum computing. This is a relatively new and potentially groundbreaking approach to building quantum processors. Instead of trapped ions (like IonQ) or superconducting quantum computers (like IBM), neutral-atom quantum processors use lasers to hold atoms in place with a kind of optical tweezers.

As you can imagine, building the technology to keep a single atom – and only a single atom – in this trap has brought its own set of challenges, but that’s mostly a problem solved now. The advantage of doing this is that once you can do this with hundreds of atoms at a time, you can create both a very dense matrix of qubits and one that you can remix in 3D space using holographic methods as needed for a given algorithm . And all this at room temperature. That makes these machines almost more like field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) than more traditional quantum processors. A paper by Pasqal on this process with more details can be found here, and it’s also worth noting that Alain Aspect, who received a Nobel Prize in 2022 for his work on quantum entanglement, is one of Pasqal’s co-founders.

Credit: Pasqal

As Pasqal co-founder and CEO Georges-Olivier Reymond told me, the company has already proven that it can control more than 300 atoms at once. “It’s very difficult to just have one atom in a laser beam and monitor and control it,” he explained. “But once you get that, you can scale that up almost effortlessly and create arrays in any shape you want.” He noted that the qubits are similar to ion-based qubits in terms of their coherence time and accuracy, but this flexibility and ability to move these atoms into Packing a very dense array with just a few microns between qubits could give this technology an advantage.

Reymond noted that with some of these basic skills now in place, the team is working on building the quantum control system so they can start implementing quantum algorithms. And while there are startups focused on building quantum control hardware, none of them are optimized for neutral atoms, he noted, so the company decided to build its own system.

Obviously, the Pasqal team is pretty optimistic about their system, and Reymond believes the team can show “Quantum Business Advantage” to their potential customers in 2024. He believes this will require a 200 to 300 qubit system.

At this time, most researchers believe that we will not see the industry trend towards a single technology to solve every algorithm. Instead, different quantum technologies will find their sweet spots for solving different problems. For Pasqal, the team believes their system will work particularly well for graph-centric problems. “There are many computational challenges that you can rearrange in the form of a chart,” he explained. “What we can do with atoms is we can represent the shape of this graph and embed the complexity of the algorithm in this geometry. In the end, instead of using thousands of quantum gates, you can run your algorithm by implementing just a few of them and then be error-proof.”

The company currently works with companies such as Crédit Agricole CIB, BASF, BMW, Siemens, Airbus, Johnson & Johnson and Thales to help them understand where its technology can meet their business needs.

“We are very proud of this new milestone in the development of PASQAL, which will propel the company into a global leader,” said Christophe Jurczak, Managing Partner at Quantonation. “Quantonation has supported the company since its spin-off from the Institut d’Optique. It is the first scale-up within Quantonation’s portfolio and truly illustrates the excellence of French research and the competitiveness of the French quantum ecosystem.”