QuEra Computing, a Boston-based quantum computing startup focusing on the entire computing stack, today emerged from stealth mode with a $17 million funding. QuEra notes this funding has enabled it to build a powerful quantum computing machine that will be easily accessible to users.

QuEra says it’s commercializing its neutral-atom technology — based on the patented research of scientists at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — to provide a quantum advantage that allows them to explore new capabilities for scaling their businesses. The company says its technology will empower enterprises to execute computational tasks that are currently not possible.

Alexander Keesling, CEO at QuEra and co-inventor of QuEra’s technology, shared with Venture a deeper look at the impact that the company’s technology will have on technical decision-makers in enterprises who are building out their data stacks and data strategies.

Applications of quantum computing

While today’s computers perform essential functions, from racing through spreadsheets to trajectory predictions, QuEra says there is a myriad of unsolved challenges in critical areas of our lives, such as climate change, artificial intelligence, protein structure-function in viruses like COVID-19, and more. The company notes the simulation of quantum mechanical systems as a major category of some “impossible problems” that today’s computers are unable to solve. QuEra says its focus is on making significant advances in two key areas: increasing the number of useful qubits and enhancing their programmability

Keesling said that QuEra is not building the next version of what already exists, but rather a new way of thinking about computing. According to Keesling, QuEra’s machine is built with individual atoms as a way of encoding and processing information — exploiting the quantum properties of these atoms for performing functions that are impossible for other devices. With 256 atomic qubits — as opposed to near 50 atomic qubits in present-day state-of-the-art commercial quantum systems — QuEra claims its new device can do things that explore the realms of scientific discovery for things like material design, chemical reactions, quantum computation, and other quantum issues.

QuEra’s technology will impact technical decision-makers in enterprises building out their data stacks and data strategies, Keesling said: “We are just at the cusp of starting to solve problems that cannot be solved with regular computers — and this technology is evolving fast. Just as a point of reference, before QuEra was even created, with the blueprint device that was built at Harvard, we had control over 50 atomic qubits in 2017. This year, we have control over 256.

“The rate at which quantum computing is advancing with this particular platform we are developing is just tremendous, and it doesn’t compare to anything else. Just like our partners at Rakuten, there are very well-tuned-to-technological-developments people at companies that have recognized this and are looking into what quantum computing is going to enable them to deal with and how to ensure they incorporate this into their processes to start solving some of the hard optimization problems that we need to deal with,” Keesling said.

The quantum technology

While Keesling admits to strong competition from large technology companies like IBM and Google, as well as rising startups like IonQ, ORCA Computing, Delft Circuits, and CQC2T, he claims they are all working on a slightly different approach to quantum computing. “In our case, we have the most scalable platform by using neutral atoms, as well as a team that developed these technologies, understands them, and is already taking them to a maturity level, where they can start being useful today, rather than five to 10 years down the line,” said Keesling.

QuEra claims its hardware uses arrays of neutral atoms, where hundreds of atoms are cooled and then arranged by laser fields in a small vacuum chamber. “While the chamber’s glass walls are at room temperature, just millimeters away the atoms are laser-cooled to a virtual standstill, reaching one-millionth of a degree Kelvin above absolute zero. That is over a million times colder than deep space and over a thousand times colder than the superconducting qubits by other industry participants like IBM and Google,” the press release said.

Keesling further noted that a key difference between QuEra’s technology and its competitors in the quantum computing space is the ease with which it creates larger and larger quantum processing units — having gone from 50 atomic qubits in 2017 to 256 this year, with projections to reach 1,000 qubits in two years. “The combination of the platform — the physical underlying way of building these things — with this amazing team is really what sets us apart,” he added.

“QuEra’s proprietary technology combined with its team of pioneers in quantum computing is unmatched. QuEra will accelerate the quantum computing industry’s trajectory, making it a technology not of the future, but of today,” Takuya Kitagawa, chief data officer at Rakuten, said in today’s press release.

“The QuEra team is taking a stepwise approach where it will continue to boost the technology’s power while closing in on “universal quantum computers” with thousands of logical qubits,” Kitagawa added.

Leading the investment

This investment round was led by Rakuten, Day One Ventures, Frontiers Capital, with participation from tech investors like Serguei Beloussov, Paul Maritz, among others. QuEra’s neutral-atom technology was built on the patented invention of its scientific co-founders. As published in the science and technology research journal, Nature, QuEra’s 256-qubit programmable quantum simulator is considered a breakthrough development in the capabilities of quantum computing.

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