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Honeywell’s Tiny Steps toward a Quantum Computing Leap

A decade ago, two scientists at Honeywell International came up with an innovative idea that the industrial company should build a quantum computer. The idea met with some initial skepticism from the management. The reason being: tech giants such as IBM and Google were already racing ahead with quantum computing. Of course Honeywell was known to be better suited for tasks like security systems and cockpit controls. Nonetheless, with a management nod, a small group of scientists and technicians started working on the technology and in recent months, their efforts did bear fruit.

In June, the company announced that it is on its way to achieve a breakthrough in quantum computing to help enterprises tackle their everyday business challenges. And last Friday, it unveiled what it dubbed the H1 generation quantum that features quantum charge coupled device (QCCD) architecture, a major technical breakthrough in accelerating quantum capability.

Taking a different path

Given the market competition and Honeywell’s domain expertise, the company decided to take a very different approach to quantum computing. It makes a claim that its machine, though slower, appears to produce more accurate results. In this early stage all quantum computers make errors, or noise, as scientists call it. Honeywell has been able to minimize them.

Paul Smith-Goodson, analyst-in-residence for quantum computing, Moor Insights & Strategy explained, “Building quantum computers capable of solving deeper, more complex problems is not just a simple matter of increasing the number of qubits.”

“Quantum volume is a powerful tool that should be adopted as an interim benchmarking tool by other gate-based quantum computer companies,” he added.

For example, Google’s boast last year that it had achieved “quantum supremacy” after its machine performed a calculation that chokes even the largest supercomputer. IBM first made a quantum computer available to the public in 2016 and has rolled out regular upgrades.

Tony Uttley, President-Honeywell Quantum Solutions

“What makes our quantum computers so powerful is having the highest quality qubits, with the lowest error rates. This is a combination of using identical, fully connected qubits and precision control,” said Tony Uttley, President of Honeywell Quantum Solutions.

And there lies the USP that any user really wants is a quantum computer with the least amount of error or noise.

Uttley believes, while errors are prevalent, Honeywell decided early on to use existing atoms as the basis of its computer, a technology known as trapped ion, to minimize errors. Google, IBM, and others are assembling tiny devices that simulate particles using electric currents at extremely cold temperatures, a method called superconducting. This technology makes for a faster computer that can be scaled up in power using the industry’s existing supply chain. But it’s also more error-prone.

In contrast, Honeywell’s quantum computer uses trapped-ion technology, which leverages numerous, individual, charged atoms (ions) to hold quantum information. These trapped-ion qubits can be uniformly generated with errors more well understood compared with alternative qubit technologies that do not directly use atoms.

Subscription-based model for easy access

The other attractive way to reach customers is through the introduction of a subscription model. The new model H1 is directly accessible to enterprises via a cloud application programming interface (API), as well as through Microsoft Azure Quantum, and alongside channel partners including Zapata Computing and Cambridge Quantum Computing.

Uttley said, “Our subscription-based model provides enterprise customers with access to Honeywell’s most advanced system available. H1 generation of systems can be upgraded through increased qubit count, even higher fidelities and unique feature modifications.”

He offered an analogy: “Imagine if the streaming service to which you subscribed became twice as good in a few weeks, 10 times as good in a few months and thousands of times better in a few quarters,” he said.

Solving practical business problem

Uttley further informed that the company has partnered with enterprise customers seeking to solve real business problems via quantum computing. The list includes logistics firm DHL and pharma company Merck, among others.

“Addressing tomorrow’s global logistics challenges requires an unwavering commitment to advancing some of today’s most promising technologies, and that includes Quantum Computing. By attempting to solve computationally complex problems, we have been leveraging quantum computing’s potential to innovate within the logistics industry to improve operational efficiencies,” said Justin Baird, Head Of Innovation, Asia Pacific, for DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation.

Honeywell further collaborated with Accenture on new use cases for Honeywell’s quantum technology and also announced that it will collaborate with global financial services firm JPMorgan Chase to develop quantum algorithms using Honeywell’s computer.

Read more: Is It Time to prepare for the Quantum Future?

“Honeywell’s unique quantum computer, along with the ecosystem Honeywell has developed around it, will enable us to get closer to tackling major and growing business challenges in the financial services industry,” said Dr. Marco Pistoia, Managing Director And Research Lead for Future Lab for Applied Research & Engineering (FLARE) at JPMorgan Chase.

Uttley informed that today, Honeywell has a cross-disciplinary team of more than 100 scientists, engineers, and software developers dedicated to advancing quantum volume and addressing real enterprise problems across industries. The company has ambitious plans for the upcoming quarters. In addition to the announced H1 computer, Honeywell confirmed it has already begun integration activities for its future System Model H2 generation as well as development activities in support of its H3 generation and beyond, it said.

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Sohini Bagchi
Sohini Bagchi is Editor at CXOToday, a published author and a storyteller. She can be reached at sohini.bagchi@trivone.com