The University of UK Quantum Space Quantum Communications Hub’s Director, Professor Tim Spiller, Talks About The UK’s Efforts To Promote Quantum Technology Innovation.
A new branch of invention called quantum technology uses the characteristics of quantum physics to provide functionality and performance across a wide range of technologies that are not possible with classical physics, which is the foundation of all of our conventional and everyday IT. Many industries, including healthcare and sustainability, stand to benefit from quantum technology. Quantum innovation must, however, be developed from a research concept into a marketable product. Having said that, a lot of nations have pledged in recent years to accelerate their quantum space, with the UK serving as a crystal-clear and avant-garde example.
The National Quantum Technologies Programme (NQTP), created by the UK in 2014, aims to safeguard UK advantage and possibilities in the developing quantum era by fostering ideas, innovation, and investment. The initiative, a £1 billion partnership between business, academia, and government, helps turn cutting-edge research into fresh goods and services.
Four significant Hubs representing the major areas of concentration into which the national program is split were established at the time of the NQTP’s debut. These include enhanced imaging, computing, communications, sensors, and timing. Each Hub coordinates projected advancements in each key area by bringing together UK-wide expertise from universities, national labs, business development, and industry partners.
With the introduction of the National Quantum Strategy (NQS), the UK committed an additional £2.5 billion to the development of quantum technology this year. The NQS lays out a ten-year vision, financing plan, and initiatives to help the UK become a leading quantum-enabled economy that are in line with the objectives of the NQTP.
The Director of the Quantum Communications Hub (QCH), Professor Tim Spiller, is in charge of the strategic direction of the Hub and is in charge of carrying out its technical work program within the larger context of the National Quantum Technologies Program. In order to discover more about the UK’s quantum research and what quantum innovation means for the UK and the rest of the globe, Editor Georgie Purcell met with Professor Spiller.
What Does the Future Hold for Quantum Technology in the UK? Why Is Quantum Technology Innovation So Crucial for The UK And the Rest of The World?
It has been widely acknowledged for more than ten years that quantum technologies, including computing, communications, imaging, sensing, and timing, may accomplish things that are far more advanced than what is possible with conventional technology. This insight has led to considerable investments in quantum innovation from several nations all over the world.
The UK was one of the first nations to implement the NQTP, a significant coordinated national initiative that is respected by many other nations.
Several quantum technologies are currently becoming marketable goods, according to the technological development landscape. Since the UK has been a pioneer in fundamental quantum research for more than 30 years, we are in a prime position to lead the way in transforming discoveries from quantum research into quantum technology. It is crucial to continuously invest in UK quantum technology, and it is apparent that the UK Government understands this.
Are There Any Significant Obstacles Preventing the UK Quantum Space from Accelerating? In That Case, How Can They Be Overcome?
Right now, there are two noticeable obstacles.
First off, there are some really good examples of how fundamental quantum science may be applied to create an early invention or prototype. The prototype or defining experiment must next undergo extensive technical engineering to become a technology. Currently, a few quantum technologies have just about managed to break past that technical barrier and reach commercialization level. However, a lot of other technologies still need to advance beyond that, with computers serving as one of the prime examples. In computing, there are still major engineering challenges to be solved before machines can be scaled up to be larger and suited for a variety of applications.
Market pull, which is now insufficient, is the other hurdle. Better offers and more engineering difficulties solved to produce real products are required to overcome this. The market pull will intensify only at that point. The significant UK quantum technology businesses are now working hard to expand their market pull. The National Quantum Technologies Program (NQTP), which includes the Quantum Communications Hub, was launched in 2014. We have done a lot of work at the Hub to demonstrate that regular fiber that is already buried in the UK can be used for secure quantum communications. This was shown, and we built the first quantum network in the UK. The networking technology was then advanced further through research conducted by the industry and financed by Innovate UK, most notably those by Toshiba and BT Group. BT and Toshiba have already built up a modest commercial trial quantum network in London and are inviting consumers to learn more about its possibilities. This exemplifies the strategies used by service and technology suppliers to try to attract customers.
These issues, in my opinion, apply to all quantum technology research conducted globally and are not particular to the UK. Any new and innovative technology does not instantly have a market, and tremendous effort is needed to allow it to expand.
The UK Introduced Its National Quantum Strategy Earlier This Year. What Are the Main Purposes Of This And Why Is It Necessary?
It’s important to note that the UK government Budget for 2023 was also issued on the same day as the National Quantum Strategy. The first 10 years of the NQTP will officially cease at the end of November of the following year. The overall investment in the UK national program during those ten years is estimated to be close to £1 billion, funded by a combination of UK government funds, industry-matched investment, and private and venture capital investment.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, established a target of £2.5 billion in investment in quantum technologies over the next 10 years, beginning at the end of this year, in his Budget, which was presented in March. This is a huge ramp up, and I don’t think he would have been willing to commit to it in the absence of a clear plan. Although we have had several strategy papers over the past 10 years, it was vital to develop a ten-year plan in order to support a large push and expand investment into quantum technology. This is accomplished by laying forth a vision for what should occur over the next 10 years in the National Quantum Strategy.
Additionally, choices must be taken on the crucial issues required to advance quantum technology. Four essential criteria were underlined in the National Quantum Strategy.
The first argument is the necessity of spending money on education and training. Once the fundamental science has been established, it must next be transformed into a technology, which calls for a significant number of trained individuals. A contemporary hurdle in the UK might be deemed to be a lack of investment in skills. The UK is still a desirable location to work, but not as much as it was prior to Brexit.
The following step in the plan is to keep supporting business. The development of UK quantum technologies is yet insufficient for companies to adopt and exploit them. To advance other technologies up the technological readiness level (TRL) stack, further research and development are required. In such instance, companies will keep funding Innovate UK initiatives to aid in the development of a prototype into a marketable product. In my opinion, growth will continue to boost commerce and commercialization.
‘Driving the adoption of quantum technologies’ is the next point that was underlined in the strategy. This is a reference to market expansion. Obviously, the government cannot completely influence a market, but if they actively engage in the acquisition and use of these technologies, they may help market growth.
Regulation is the last point. Most people view regulation as a hindrance, yet when implemented properly, rules and regulations may promote market expansion and innovation.
Could You Give Us Additional Information Regarding the Quantum Communications Hub? How Does the Development Of Quantum Technology Work?
There are a few significant supporting factors.
The main quantum technologies include communications, computation, imaging, and timing sensing, as was already noted. There are three more Hubs that are focused on computing, imaging, and sensing in addition to the Quantum Communications Hub, which is obviously centered on secure communications.
When it comes to the technological industry, the QCH covers the communications domain. However, we concentrate on the lowest few TRLs while discussing them.
The centers were initially positioned as technology development centers rather than research hubs when the national initiative was originally established. This is due to the fact that the study would still be supported through the standard UKRI methods. The Hubs are created to concentrate on a certain industry vertical and use the research at hand to advance the technology at least to a prototype stage. To be able to move things forward, it is essential that we continue to have a firm grip on the research field that is pertinent to us.
The first few TRLs above zero are where the QCH operates. Other teams within the national program can now take over. For instance, Innovate UK has been working for more than 10 years to invest in projects driven by business that are higher TRL oriented. They take a functioning prototype and transform it into a product that a business may potentially market. We develop an idea in the hub before looking for a place to “tech transfer” it. One way is to transfer it via our industry partners to a project driven by the industry and financed by Innovate UK. A project can also be spun off.
What Are the Quantum Communications Hub’s Most Notable Projects?
One important endeavor is terrestrial, in-the-ground optical fiber-based quantum networking, as was already described. The first national quantum network in the UK was created by us, and it has since been “tech transferred.” Both Toshiba and BT first adopted parts of the network, turning them into industry-led initiatives supported by Innovate UK to further these quantum technologies. These businesses have now established a test commercial network in London and conducted extensive exhibitions of how the technology may operate. This is an illustration of a situation where the work has advanced through practically all technical readiness levels to a service that is almost commercial.
The development of technology with extremely low size, weight, and power is another crucial factor, particularly with current communications technologies. These advancements must be lightweight, consume little power, and be compact enough to fit into a tiny portable device. A push to put things on-chip has been observed in the communications industry. In the roughly 50 years that electronics have existed on chips, the chips have gotten progressively better. The use of optical components on semiconductors is still in its infancy. We have concentrated on making it possible for some of the technologies to be put onto a chip within the Hub. A notable spinoff from the center is the University of Bristol’s KETS firm.
Monitoring standards, assurance, and measurement inside the quantum realm is a crucial component of our job. On this, we collaborate closely with the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which has been a Hub partner since the beginning.
It’s an amazing development that the QCH is concentrating on space technology to support future secure communications on a global scale. Under the aegis of the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is funding The Hub to carry out its own research program, SPOQC (Satellite Platform for Optical Quantum Communications). In order to demonstrate in-orbit quantum key distribution from space to the Hub Optical Ground Station (HOGS), which has been set up at the Errol Airfield location in Scotland, SPOQC, a 12u CubeSat for the Quantum Communications Hub, will be launched in 2024. SPOQC’s successful functioning will allow us to create the critical next R&D phases, leading to potential commercial quantum secure space services.