Ready for the Quantum Revolution?

Like many people, I thought that the promise of the quantum revolution was years, if not decades, away. However a recent Cambridge Wireless event described practical, working quantum devices emerging from the laboratory today. These have the same disruptive potential as the first transistor did back in the middle of the last century.

So what is the quantum revolution?  In one sense we are already living it; today’s microelectronics and communications are built on quantum effects. However we currently rely on bulk effects, controlling billions of fundamental particles such as electrons and photons. The coming quantum revolution will control single atoms or particles; which will allow the weird effects of superposition (a bit being both a 1 and 0 at the same time) and entanglement (particles interacting at a distance) to be exploited.

As an engineer, I find that the quantum label is interesting, but what might cause the near-term market disruption that we’re promised are sensors with an accuracy that is many orders of magnitude better than are available today. For example, I can build an inertial navigation system, but since it integrates acceleration over time, errors can accumulate rapidly, limiting the usefulness of the system. Thus we use the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS) as an absolute frame of reference. Already a chip-scale atomic (quantum) clock is available, so if the promised accuracy of quantum acceleration measurements can be realised at chip-scale, then our reliance on GNSS could be significantly reduced, or even eliminated.

The transistor has changed our lives over the last century in ways we could not have imagined and the new quantum revolution has the potential to match that impact. So what new applications will emerge and what impact will they have on our everyday lives? To paraphrase the ancient Chinese curse, ‘we are living in interesting times’. How are you getting ready to build the killer application for this future technology?

Mark England