Intel getting closer to transistor-like qubit technology

It remains unclear how big of a role major semiconductor firms will play in the emerging quantum computing sector. Players like GlobalFoundries, Nvidia and Intel have made quantum-related moves in recent years, but quantum processing units, the chips that power quantum computers for now represent a fairly specialized field and one that could be years away from maturing into a larger market opportunity.

Intel, however, recently has been making strides at the technology level that could provide a glimpse at how the company could become a key player in quantum computing. Just last week, James Clarke, director of quantum hardware at Intel, published a blog post that highlights Intel’s vision for quantum computing and its recent advancements to leverage existing manufacturing processes for the scale production of qubits and quantum control electronics.

Clarke said Intel is getting close to developing a lab-based prototype for how to build “silicon spin qubits on silicon wafers and develop a qubit technology that looks like a transistor,” which would bring quantum computing component manufacturing more into the realm of today’s transistor and chip manufacturing processes.

He added, “Intel’s qubits are different from other approaches in the industry. While Intel isn’t the only company working on silicon qubits, we're the only company using the same process line to make our qubits as we do our leading-edge logic technology. And since Intel is dedicated to transistor and microcircuit design, the company has technology like computer-aided design (TCAD) for device creation. That same capability doesn't yet exist for quantum, but we’re developing it. Intel also differs from other quantum hardware developers because we enable the full-stack pieces in-house.”

These capabilities will help Intel play a role in supplying the rest of the quantum computing sector with research around qubit architectures and algorithms, control electronics needed for quantum computers, and interconnects to multiply the processing power of quantum chips, as well as quantum software toolchains and compilers, application layer innovations. 

Intel’s vision for quantum is not one that will be realized overnight, Clarke emphasized. Despite the hype around quantum computing, the technology will take 10 to 15 years to mature, which makes it not much different from other semiconductor innovations which have taken about the same amount of time to reach maturity.

Still, it is clear the semiconductor giant wants to be seen as an innovator and a thought leader in the quantum sector. While the company touted its 2-qubit Horse Ridge quantum control processor last year, it has not been quite as vocal in the months since as Nvidia, which has talked up its Quantum Optimized Device Architecture and other developments. Clarke wants to make sure that everyone knows Intel does have a plan for quantum computing, and that it has not been sitting around twiddling its thumbs.