Paris-based quantum computing startup Pasqal announced today that it has raised a $100 million Series B funding round led by Singapore’s Temasek Holdings. 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 the round.
What makes Pasqal, founded in early 2019, stand out in an increasingly crowded field of quantum computing startups is its bet on neutral-atom quantum computing. It’s a relatively new and potentially game-changing approach to building quantum processors. Instead of trapping ions (like IonQ) or superconducting quantum computers (like IBM), neutral-atom quantum processors use lasers to hold atoms in what are essentially optical tweezers.
As you might imagine, building the technique to hold a single atom—and only one atom—in this trap presented its own challenges, but for now it’s largely a solved problem. The advantage here is that once you can do this for hundreds of atoms at the same time, you can create a very dense matrix of qubits, and one that can be rearranged in 3D space using holographic methods as needed for a given algorithm . All of this happens at room temperature. That almost makes these machines more akin to field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) than more traditional quantum processors. You can find the Pasqal paper with more details on this process here, and it’s also worth noting that Alain Aspect, one of Pasqal’s co-founders, will be awarded the Nobel Prize in 2022 for his work on quantum entanglement prize.
As Pasqal co-founder and CEO Georges-Olivier Reymond told me, the company has demonstrated that it can control more than 300 atoms simultaneously. “It’s very difficult to monitor and control just one atom in a laser beam,” he explained. “But once you achieve that, you can scale it up almost easily, and you can create arrays of any shape you want.” Qubits are similar to ion-based qubits in terms of coherence time and fidelity, he noted. , but this flexibility and ability to pack these atoms in very dense arrays, with just a few microns between qubits, could make this technology possible. an advantage.
With some of these basic functions in place, the team is working on building a quantum control system so they can start implementing quantum algorithms, Reymond noted. He noted that while there were some startups focused on building quantum-controlled hardware, none were optimized for neutral atoms, so the company decided to build its own system.
Clearly, the Pasqal team is quite optimistic about its system, and Reymond thinks the team will be able to demonstrate “quantum business advantage” to its potential customers in 2024. He thinks this would require a system with 200 to 300 qubits.
At this point, most researchers believe that we won’t see an industry trend towards a single technique to solve all algorithms. Instead, different quantum technologies will find sweet spots for solving different problems. As for Pasqal, the team believes its system will be particularly applicable to graph-centric problems. “There are a lot of computational challenges that you can reconstruct in graph form,” he explained. “What we can do with atoms is we can represent the shape of this graph and embed the complexity of the algorithm into this geometry. Finally, instead of using thousands of quantum gates, just implement a few of them and you can run your algorithm, and then you can be resilient to errors.”
The company is currently working with companies such as Crédit Agricole CIB, BASF, BMW, Siemens, Airbus, Johnson & Johnson and Thales to help them understand where its technology can solve their business needs.
“We are very proud of this new milestone in the development of PASQAL, which will establish the company as a world leader,” said Christophe Jurczak, Quantonation Managing Partner. “Quantonation has supported the company since the spin-off of the Institut d’Optique. This is The first expansion of the Quantonation portfolio, it truly demonstrates the excellence of French research and the competitiveness of the French quantum ecosystem.”