Chinese quantum computer may be the most powerful ever seen

11 Dec 2020

A more typical example of a quantum computer, not the one used by the China team. Image: © Bartek/

This week in future tech, a Chinese quantum computer can reportedly solve a problem in 200 seconds, compared to the 2.5bn years a supercomputer needs.

A quantum computer developed at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, China, has caught the world’s attention due to what appears to be a performance vastly exceeding others that exist today.

According to findings in published in Science and reported by Nature, researchers claim they demonstrated a ‘quantum advantage’, using laser beams to perform a computation that is not mathematically possible using traditional binary computers.

“We have shown that we can use photons, the fundamental unit of light, to demonstrate quantum computational power well beyond the classical counterpart,” said researcher Jian-Wei Pan.

Tasked with solving the so-called boson sampling problem, the researchers found solutions in as little as 200 seconds. By comparison, it could take China’s TaihuLight supercomputer about 2.5bn years to do the same.

However, Christian Weedbrook, chief executive of quantum-computing start-up Xanadu, said that unlike Google’s Sycamore quantum computer announced last year, the Chinese quantum computer is not programmable. This means that, so far, it cannot be used for solving practical problems.

‘Smellicopter’ drone uses live moth antenna to smell gas

Scientists from the University of Washington have unveiled a drone that smells, using the power of a moth. Writing in IOP Bioinspiration and Biomimetics, they revealed their ‘Smellicopter’ design.

The autonomous drone uses a live antenna from a moth to navigate toward smells, while also having the ability to sense and avoid obstacles. A moth uses its antennae to sense chemicals in its environment and navigate toward sources of food or potential mates.

In this case, the researchers used antennae from the Manduca sexta hawkmoth for Smellicopter. The moths were placed in a fridge to anaesthetise them before removing their antennae. Once separated, the live moth antennae could stay chemically active for four hours.

By adding tiny wires into either end of the antenna, the researchers were able to connect it to an electrical circuit and measure the average signal from all of the cells in the antenna. They said Smellicopter could be used to detect things such as gas leaks, explosives and disaster survivors.

“From a robotics perspective, this is genius,” said Sawyer Fuller of the University of Washington. “The classic approach in robotics is to add more sensors, and maybe build a fancy algorithm or use machine learning to estimate wind direction. It turns out, all you need is to add a fin.”

Volocopter reveals plans for Singapore air taxi service

German air taxi firm Volocopter said it plans to make regular services a reality in Singapore within the next three years. In October 2019, Volocopter completed the its first air taxi demonstration flight over the Marina Bay area of Singapore and the company is now looking to obtain the necessary regulatory approvals for regular service, including those from Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and the European Union Aviation Safety.

The first route is expected to be a touristic route over the southern waters, offering views of the Marina Bay skyline, and future routes may include cross-border flights. The company is expected to hire over 200 full-time employees in Singapore to manage a network of routes by 2026.

“The city’s research institutes conducting R&D play an integral part in this,” said Florian Reuter, CEO of Volocopter. “Topics like route validation for autonomous operations, material science and research regarding battery technology are very important for our long-term business success.”

Number of 5G devices breaks the 500 barrier

The Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) has reported that the number of announced 5G devices has surpassed 500 for the first time. By the end of November this year, there were 519 announced 5G devices, of which 303 were commercially available.

In the last three months, the number of announced 5G devices has grown by 29.4pc, while there has been a 59.5pc increase in the number of commercially available 5G devices over the same period.

“This year we’ve seen more and more symbolically important milestones being passed – over 500 announced 5G devices, more than 100 vendors, over 250 different phones, and 100 fixed wireless access CPE devices,” said Joe Barrett, president of the GSA.

“And it doesn’t stop there; we expect more 5G devices to become commercially available, surpassing the 330 mark before the year is out. The device vendor community has stepped up and delivered in the face of unprecedented challenges. As an industry, we can be excited about the opportunities 2021 will bring.”

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Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic