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Honeywell quantum computing system passes IBM out of the gate

Honeywell joined the quantum computing race this week with a system featuring a new quantum architecture with a Quantum Volume rating of 64 -- double that of existing systems.

Honeywell International Inc. jumped into the quantum computing race this week with a system that uses trapped ion technology.

The new Honeywell quantum computing system, which has a Quantum Volume of 64 , is double that of existing quantum systems from companies such as IBM and D-Wave Systems. The company expects to deliver the system in 90 days.

The company attributes the system's 64 rating to its new quantum charge coupled device (QCCD) architecture, which will allow Honeywell to increase its Quantum Volume by an order of magnitude each year for the next five years.

"The performance metric the [quantum computing] community is agreeing on now is Quantum Volume," said Tony Uttley, president of Honeywell's quantum solutions group. "We have seen over time that it matters more how low an error rate your system has, not just how many physical qubits you have. The right question to ask is how many effective qubits do you have."

Honeywell chose the trapped ion approach, which is similar to the approach startup IonQ employs in its quantum system, because it allows you to start with "a perfect qubit," Uttley said.

"When you start with a perfect qubit in your system, any errors that then occur can be more easily traced back to things you put into the surrounding infrastructure," Uttley said. "What Honeywell is good at is taking a systems engineering approach to complex system design, so we are aware of all the potential entry points of error."

Some analysts believe the new QCCD architecture the system uses could give Honeywell at least a temporary lead in the game of performance leapfrog many quantum system makers find themselves in. But Honeywell will have to keep leaping if they hope to maintain that lead over time.

"They have to do some things beyond the [QCCD architecture] in order to achieve these huge Quantum Volume numbers they are talking about, like and integrating more capabilities at the chip level," said Paul Smith-Goodson, analyst-in-residence for quantum computing at Moor Insights & Strategy. "But what they have right now looks pretty solid going forward."

They have to do some things beyond the [QCCD architecture] in order to achieve these huge Quantum Volume numbers ... but what they have right now looks pretty solid going forward.
Paul Smith-GoodsonAnalyst-in-residence for quantum computing, Moor Insights & Strategy

The technologies in the new Honeywell quantum computing system began development 10 years ago, according to Uttley. Some of those technologies are borrowed from its various control systems, a market the company has built a reputation in decades ago.

"As [quantum systems] get bigger and start to resemble process control plants, that plays to our core strength," Uttley said. "Being able to control massively complex systems in a way that simplifies an operation you need to do is something we have a long history with."

Another analyst agreed that Honeywell's expertise in developing and manufacturing control systems gives them a technology advantage over quantum computing competitors that have never ventured into that business.

"Their experience in precision manufacturing and environmental controls should allow them to create a quantum system that blocks out more environmental noise which, in part, helps them achieve higher Quantum Volume," said James Sanders, a cloud transformation analyst with 451 Research.

Along with the new system, Honeywell's venture capital group, Honeywell Ventures, has made an investment in Cambridge Quantum Computing and Zapata Computing Inc., both producers of quantum software and quantum algorithms that will work jointly with Honeywell. Cambridge Quantum Computing focuses on a number of markets including chemistry, machine learning and augmented cybersecurity. Zapata's algorithms focus on areas such as simulation of chemical reactions, machine learning and a range of optimization problems.

"We already work in vertical markets we believe will be profoundly impacted by quantum computing, like the aerospace, chemicals, and oil and gas industries," Uttley said. "We already have domain experts in areas now that will focus on use cases applicable to quantum computing."

The company is also partnering with JPMorgan Chase to develop quantum algorithms using Honeywell quantum computing. Last fall, Honeywell announced a partnership with Microsoft that will see the software giant provide cloud access to Honeywell's quantum system through Microsoft Azure Quantum services.

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