London-based ORCA Computing, Europe’s leading full-stack photonic quantum computing company, has announced a $15 million Series A financing round.
The increase marks another milestone for the company, which makes quantum computers using optical fibers and other off-the-shelf components, and was recently selected to lead a major Innovate UK project to create “the quantum data center of the future.” to be developed, valued at £11.6 million.
Ready-made quantum computers
There is a growing sense that quantum computing is reaching a turning point and can deliver real results for specific problems in areas such as pharmaceutical research and calculating bank investment portfolios.
Still, many questions remain, not least the best technological approach.
“Photonics is very different from normal quantum computers, in that photonics systems are very, very fast, relatively easy to work with — they’re not cryogenically cooled — and so they’re pretty easy to adapt for things like machine learning, Richard Murray, co-founder and CEO of ORCA, tells Sifted.
“What we’re trying to do is build quantum computers without having to resort to creating new kinds of chips or really exotic stuff,” he adds. Instead, the company largely uses off-the-shelf telecom components.
ORCA, a spin-off from the University of Oxford, currently has a team of 30 across the UK, Canada, US and Poland, and aims to nearly double that with this latest investment round.
Murray says the money will be used to roll out photonic quantum computing systems in the near term, as well as software that will help organizations develop future data processing capabilities.
At the same time, the company’s longer-term goal is to make progress in error correction, which Murray describes as the holy grail. Today’s quantum computers are very error-prone, which makes practical use difficult.
“ORCA is quite unique in that it is able to build the system step-by-step into a system large enough to run error correction codes,” he says.
ORCA’s latest funding round was led by Octopus Ventures, along with other top European deep technology investors, including Oxford Science Enterprises, Quantonation and Verve Ventures, with additional project-based funding from Innovate UK.
“Quantum computing has the potential to transform trillion-dollar industries from drug discovery to autonomous vehicles, but scaling a system to the qubits needed to run significant quantum algorithms is a huge undertaking,” said Zoë Reich, a fund manager at Octopus Ventures. “We believe the ORCA team is up to that challenge.”
“They have the ambition to [a quantum computer] on a tank for example. That as an engineering challenge is very exciting for us”
On Thursday, the startup also announced that it was working with the UK Ministry of Defense on a year-long project to develop future data processing capabilities, using its PT-1 model, the first computer of its kind to operate at room temperature and based locally.
Murray says the project is Defense’s first major step into quantum computing. “We’re going to work with them to help them discover and explore and investigate the first applications that could be ready,” he tells Sifted, adding that the ministry is interested in exploring many different use cases that to get quantum computing out of the world. laboratory. “They have the ambition to put one on a tank, for example. That as a technical challenge for us is really exciting.”
The quantum race has begun
When it comes to quantum computing, the race is still on to determine which type of quantum bit, or qubit, is best, Murray says, leading the way with photonics, superconducting and trapped ions.
“I think photonics has a very attractive future. It’s so different that I can easily see it coexisting with those other types of qubits,” he says. “Only photonics makes it possible to transport quantum information over distances of more than a meter. Everything else, all the information is quite localized and that makes scaling the systems quite difficult.”
ORCA’s approach to quantum computing also does not require complex components, such as advanced cryogenic cooling and vacuums, which is a distinct advantage.
ORCA is not alone in championing the potential of photonic quantum computing solutions, with companies such as California-based PsiQuantum and Canada-based Xanadu Quantum Technologies also receiving strong financial backing. Murray also highlights the arrival of newer players such as It’sQ, based in Germany, and French startup Quandela.
Still, ORCA is clearly doing something right: in addition to bringing in investors, it continues to bring in large-scale public projects.
“Our mission is to put photonic systems in the hands of users today so that we can deliver value in both the short and long term,” said Murray.
Kit Gillet is Sifted’s Eastern European correspondent. He tweets from @KitGillet