IBM launches quantum computer in Germany

17 Jun 2021

The IBM Quantum System One. Image: IBM

IBM’s Quantum System One computer represents a massive leap forward for Europe in the rapidly developing field.

The first IBM quantum computer to be established outside of the United States is located in the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft research institute in Germany.

The unveiling of the supercomputer took place in Ehningen on 15 June with a hybrid event of in-person attendees and virtual guests. Among those attending online was IBM chair and CEO Arvind Krishna, as well as German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Quantum computing works by going beyond the binary systems of traditional computers. While these binary systems (measured in bits) work well for certain simple tasks, they cannot account for situations that don’t fall into on/off categories.

Machines like those designed by IBM use quantum theory to allow for uncertainty in their models. By allowing its components to occupy both ‘on’ and ‘off’ scenarios at the same time, different types of computation are made possible. This ability to deal with complex scenarios makes quantum computers especially well suited to simulating and predicting outcomes.

Other applications include safely sharing data, as well as the establishment of quantum cloud computing, potentially resulting in a considerable increase in computing power.

‘We are in the midst of a very intensive competition, and Germany has the intention of having an important say’

Krishna was first to take the floor at the event in Germany, discussing the exciting possibilities in this frontier field. Highlighting the fact that Moore’s law was coming to an end, he described the new direction of research as one of the next technological leaps that is at an inflection point.

Describing it as a watershed moment for Germany, the IBM CEO mentioned new pharmaceuticals, sophisticated weather models, advanced fertiliser and batteries with 1,000 times their current power as just a few of the possibilities envisioned through quantum computing.

Shortly after, chancellor Merkel began her address. Merkel, who has a doctorate in quantum chemistry, described the computer as a “technological miracle” and a “flagship of Germany as a location for high-tech”.

She continued: “Quantum computers can bring about a performance boost in a number of domains, thus creating more value, especially in combination with AI. What this effectively means is that quantum computing can play a key role in our endeavour to acquire technological and digital sovereignty and thus contribute to growth and employment.

“Of course, we’re not the only ones to have realised that this is the case. The US and China have invested enormous amounts of money. It is not only about basic research but very much about application areas. We are in the midst of a very intensive competition, and Germany has the intention of having an important say.”

The research institute has quickly put the quantum computer to use, focusing on problems concerning optimisation of materials in energy storage systems, as well as improving stability in energy supply infrastructures. It is now available to companies, research institutions and universities for upcoming projects and tasks.

IBM has planned further expansion of its quantum computing with a computer due for launch in Japan in July 2021, and “in the not too distant future” one will also be installed at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. These will be joining IBM’s existing special-purpose quantum computation data centre in New York, representing an increasing commitment to the developing field.

Sam Cox was a journalist at Silicon Republic covering sci-tech news