French startup Pasqal raises 100 million euros for its quantum computer

Co-founded by the Nobel Prize in Physics Alain Aspect, the French start-up Pasqal is one of the most advanced in Europe in the quantum computer.

The French start-up Pasqal, which has just raised 100 million euros to accelerate the development of its quantum computer, intends to prove its industrial relevance, in a still embryonic field.

This operation boosts the start-up, which has the 2022 Nobel Prize in Physics Alain Aspect among its co-founders, to the forefront of European companies in the sector.

Quantum computers are called upon to radically transform computing, with gigantic computational power beyond comparison with conventional machines.

The potential applications are immense in industry, in artificial intelligence (improvement of machine learning), in finance or even in the optimization of energy or transport networks.

In chemistry, they can perform extremely accurate numerical simulations of new molecules. Researchers would no longer necessarily need to synthesize them to observe them and test interactions, for example, to develop new drugs.

A quantum computer that is way behind schedule

For now, Pasqal is a start-up employing 100 people, whose already-built machines can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

One of them has been accessible online since May 2022, so that the first projects and use cases can be tested by developers.

Others are in the process of being completed, with emphasis on two planned deliveries in the main centers of intensive computing in France (Genci) and Germany (Jülich).

However, no quantum computer has yet managed to prove its superiority over a classical computer indisputably.

But “we are entering a new era in which the quantum computer is starting to be at the level of classical computing”, says Georges-Olivier Reymond, general manager of Pasqal.

The young company is thus preparing to publish a scientific article with the investment bank Crédit Agricole explaining how its quantum processor was able to do as well as a conventional computer in a problem of calculating the borrower’s risk.

With the money raised, the start-up based in Massy (Paris region) plans to double its workforce in a year and build a few dozen machines in the coming years, according to Georges-Olivier Reymond.

“Quantum Advantage”

The goal is to quickly increase your computing power to finally beat a classic machine.

This “quantum advantage” can be achieved “within 1 to 3 years, depending on how lucky or how optimistic we are”, explains the leader.

IBM, one of the most advanced groups in the world in the quantum computer race, expects to get there by 2024.

Google claimed “quantum supremacy” in 2019, saying its Sycamore processor performed a calculation in 3 minutes that would take a conventional supercomputer over 10,000 years.

But this assertion was later contested, in particular because the calculation then made served no other purpose than achieving this victory.

The problem for quantum computer manufacturers is how to increase the number of quantum bits (also called qubits), the building block of the quantum processor.

Coming soon 1000 qubits

Based on the infinitely small (rubidium atoms manipulated by lasers, in Pasqal’s case), these qubits are also very unstable and very difficult to control, with a difficulty that increases as we go along.

Pasqal, which will supply 100-qubit machines to French and German computing centers, is soon aiming to achieve a 1,000-qubit processor.

“For us, it’s a kind of magic number, which we believe will allow us to achieve the quantum advantage”, emphasizes Georges-Olivier Reymond.

Investors betting on Pasqal are international funds, such as Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, the Saudi fund Wa’ed, a subsidiary of the oil giant Aramco, or the European Union fund EIC and the French funds Bpifrance and Innovation Défense.

European private funds Daphni, Eni Next or Quantonation, a French fund focused on quantum, are also participating in the round table.

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