Ministry of Defence buys first quantum computer from ORCA

ORCA Computing MoD quantum compuer

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) has ordered its first quantum computer from London-based ORCA Computing.

The two-year-old company has also announced the completion of its $15m (£11.9m) Series A funding round.

ORCA’s PT-1 quantum computer will be used by the MoD on-site to develop use cases for the technology as part of a one year programme. Applications will be developed for the PT-1 by the MoD and partners.

Where traditional computers store information as a 0 or 1, known as bits, quantum computers can process information as either or both at the same time. These are known as qubits, and mean a quantum computer’s processing power can increase exponentially.

This has been promised to revolutionise industries such as drug discovery, finance – and defence.

Despite significant advances in recent years, quantum computers largely remain in research labs and are often temperamental.

ORCA has developed software that uses small scale photonic processors that can be applied to machine learning and optimisation tasks, such as analysing images, handwriting recognition and decision making.

ORCA did not share the number of qubits that the MoD’s machine will have.

According to ORCA, its quantum computers are built with easy to source components such as optical fibre and can be rack-mounted and operate at room temperature.

Typically, quantum computers require cooling systems to run near absolute zero temperatures.

“Accessing our own quantum computing hardware will not only accelerate our understanding of quantum computing, but the computer’s room-temperature operation will also give us the flexibility to use it in different locations for different requirements,” said Stephen Till, fellow, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, an executive agency of the MoD.

Till added that the ORCA system will give “significantly improved latency…important for hybrid algorithms which require multiple handovers between quantum and classical systems”.

MoD gets ‘hands-on’ with quantum computers

Richard Murray, CEO of ORCA Computing, said: “While there has been much discussion and debate in the industry over the realities of near-term quantum computing, our partnership with MoD gives us hands-on close interaction; and working with real hardware will help us to jointly discover new applications of this revolutionary new technology.”

Orca’s $15m (£11.9m) Series A saw capital invested by Octopus Ventures, Oxford Science Enterprises, Quantonation, and Verve Ventures. It is also the recipient of project-based funding from Innovate UK.

The funds raised in the round will be used to launch its photonic computing systems and software to organisations such as the MoD, as well as development.

“Quantum computing holds the potential to transform trillion-dollar industries, from drug discovery to autonomous vehicles, but scaling a system to the qubits needed to execute significant quantum algorithms is an immense undertaking,” said Zoë Reich, fund manager, Octopus Ventures.

Orca is the leader of a consortium that counts BP, Airbus, Riverlane, KETS, BT and five UK universities among its members.

Earlier this year, high street bank HSBC announced a three-year collaboration with IBM to explore the use of quantum computing within the banking industry.