Tunnel Falls: Intel reveals 12-qubit quantum chip for research

16 Jun 2023

A Tunnel Falls chip on a finger. Image: Intel Corporation

Aimed primarily at quantum researchers, the latest Intel chip lags behind competitors in qubits but the company says it has faith in its tech.

Intel has unveiled its latest innovation, a 12-qubit quantum chip called Tunnel Falls, as it attempts to play catch up with competitors such as IBM and Google in the quantum race.

Announced yesterday (15 June), Tunnel Falls is pitched as the company’s “most advanced silicon spin qubit chip” to date that marks the next step in its long-term strategy to build “a full-stack commercial quantum computing system”.

Intel said it intends to make the chip available to the academic community through universities and federal research labs to foster innovation in quantum computing.

“While there are still fundamental questions and challenges that must be solved along the path to a fault-tolerant quantum computer, the academic community can now explore this technology and accelerate research development,” said Jim Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel.

Apparently named after a waterfall near Intel’s Oregon facility, Tunnel Falls marks an interesting milestone for the company but lags well behind the qubit count of competitors.

IBM, for example, just revealed a breakthrough 127-qubit quantum processor that reportedly came up with better answers to a physics problem than a conventional supercomputer. The tech giant has also been investing millions to develop a supercomputer powered by 100,000 qubits.

However, Intel is confident it is on the right track. “To me, it’s natural to use the tools already developed rather than having to develop new tools,” Clarke was quoted as saying by CNET.

The tech giant is betting on silicon spin qubits over other qubit technologies used by competitors because of their “synergy with leading-edge transistors”.

In its announcement, Intel argued that silicon spin qubits are the size of a typical transistor, which means they are up to a million times smaller than other qubit types measuring approximately 50×50 nanometres, potentially allowing for efficient scaling.

The first quantum labs to participate in the programme include LPS, Sandia National Laboratories, the University of Rochester and the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

LQC will work alongside Intel to make Tunnel Falls available to additional universities and research labs and the findings of these experiments will be shared with the broader quantum community to advance research and help Intel improve its own quantum offerings.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic