Abu Dhabi starts building UAE's first quantum computer

Laboratory constructing the quantum computer is also aiming to produce 'made in Abu Dhabi' microchips by the end of summer

Faisal Al Bannai, secretary general of the Advanced Technology Research Council. Reem Mohammed / The National
Faisal Al Bannai, secretary general of the Advanced Technology Research Council. Reem Mohammed / The National

Abu Dhabi has begun building its own quantum computer with the aim of generating breakthroughs in drug discovery and battery technology.

Technology Innovation Institute, the applied research arm of Abu Dhabi's Advanced Technology Research Council, is constructing the computer at its Quantum Research Centre labs, in collaboration with Barcelona-based Qilimanjaro Quantum Tech.

“We are at the cusp of a new era with the advent of quantum computing,” said Faisal Al Bannai, secretary general of the Advanced Technology Research Council.

“We are proud to embark on building one of these wonderful machines."

A quantum computer is a kind of supercomputer, defined simply as a machine that can compute at a much faster rate than a typical modern computer.

Quantum computing represents "the ability to condense decades or even centuries of number-crunching into minutes", a report compiled by the World Government Summit and PwC said.

The field represents a dramatic shift in computing power that will shape the future security and prosperity of nations and companies.

José Ignacio Latorre, chief researcher at the Quantum Research Centre labs, said work was already underway and the aim was to make the first 'made in Abu Dhabi' quantum chips by the end of the summer.

“The first step in the process is to build a laboratory, equip it and complete installation of the cleanroom equipment, all of which is on track," he said.

This quantum computer will be the first in the UAE.

Mr Latorre said the lab in Abu Dhabi had opted to use superconducting qubits, which is the same technology that Google and IBM are using to build their quantum computers.

Quantum computers work beyond the binary digital realm of 1s and 0s to achieve more capacity and speed.

Originally introduced in the 1960s, supercomputers have been getting exponentially faster ever since, taking on computationally complicated problems in fields like climate research, oil and gas exploration and molecular modelling to help surface new drugs and materials.

But quantum computing is a newer field, popularised by theoretical physicist John Preskill, who came up with a formulation of quantum supremacy, or the ability for quantum computers to do things that are not possible for ordinary computers.

Ever since, the world's biggest economies, from the US, Russia, China and Japan, as well as tech titans IBM, Alibaba and Google have been battling for supremacy in the field of quantum computing.

But so far, only very limited computational problems have been used to test speed. Quantum computers are not yet capable of solving practical problems. But when they do, their potential is vast and may rapidly speed up human discovery.

For example, since quantum computers can simulate and design molecular structures at the atomic level, one will be able to see how a new drug will work in a human being, someday circumventing testing on humans or animals.

A quantum computer could one day answer questions about the origins of the universe and lingering questions about space and time.

In 2019, Google claimed it built the first machine to achieve "quantum supremacy", meaning a computer that was the first to outperform the world's best supercomputers at quantum calculation. Its prototype quantum computer completed in less than four minutes a calculation that would have taken a supercomputer 10,000 years to complete.

Then, in December last year, a Chinese team based primarily at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, said their quantum computer was 10 billion times faster than Google's.

Updated: March 24, 2021 09:25 AM

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