Intel makes a small but significant step towards quantum computing with its 17-qubit chip

In the race to build a quantum computer, companies around the world are making progress – albeit, slowly. 

Intel makes a small but significant step towards quantum computing with its 17-qubit chip

To help advance these efforts, Intel has designed a chip that holds 17 superconducting quantum bits, or qubits, and is working with research partners in the Netherlands to test ways to make it perform computational tasks.

READ NEXT: What is quantum computing? 

A quantum computer relies on qubits instead of classical bits. Qubits can be in an infininte number of states rather than just the binary ‘1’ or ‘0’, meaning more information can be stored in one single ‘package’ of information. These qubits can be represented by anything that holds quantum information; like the spin of an electron around an atom, the polarisation of a photon, or the electron number.

Intel’s chip uses superconducting qubits, made of two superconducting electrodes separated by a junction. There are three superconducting properties that can be used in this scenario; phase, flux and charge.

The biggest barrier in creating chips running multiple qubits is preserving the qubits’ state. Intel said it works at 20 millikelvin, extremely close to the coldest temperatures in the Universe, to make the qubits operate correctly. 

There are still many additional hurdles that need to be overcome before this chip can be used in a computational setting, though, which is why Intel has sent it to QuTech, a company partnered with the Technical University in Delft, the Netherlands. 

Intel manufactures the chips before QuTech tests them and notes down the conditions under which they perform at their most efficient. Intel then creates a chip with more qubits, for more testing, and the cycle continues.

“With this test chip, we’ll focus on connecting, controlling and measuring multiple, entangled qubits towards an error correction scheme and a logical qubit,” said professor Leo DiCarlo of QuTech. “This work will allow us to uncover new insights in quantum computing that will shape the next stage of development.”

The quantum computing team at Intel is hopeful these kinds of advancements will pave the way towards a quantum computer, but it is still a long way off.

“Our quantum research has progressed to the point where our partner QuTech is simulating quantum algorithm workloads, and Intel is fabricating new qubit test chips on a regular basis in our leading-edge manufacturing facilities,” said Michael Mayberry, corporate vice president and managing director of Intel Labs. 

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