While quantum computing is still in its infancy and is mostly just a part of books and research papers, IBM at CES 2019 unveiled the Q System One that is touted to be the world’s first quantum computer for commercial use. The new machine doesn’t look like a mainframe computer. Instead, it comes in a futuristic, nine-foot-tall and nine-foot wide case of half-inch thick borosilicate glass that reminds us of the cylindrical design of the 2013 Mac Pro. The Armonk, New York-headquartered company has also announced its plans to open the first IBM Q Quantum Computation Centre in Poughkeepsie later this year to give a boost to its quantum computing business. Notably, the IBM Q System One won’t be sold publicly to the masses. The company is, however, set to give access to the quantum computing system to businesses partnering under the IBM Q Network.

The IBM Q System One is officially known as the “world’s first integrated universal approximate quantum computing system designed for scientific and commercial use”. The machine has been designed by a group of industrial designers, architects, and manufacturers alongside IBM Research scientists and system engineers. The designing work of the machine was also accomplished by UK industrial and interior design studios Map Project Office and Milan-based museum display case manufacturer Goppion, and Universal Design Studio. Notably, Google back in 2017 was said to have given early access to its quantum machines to science labs and artificial intelligence researchers.

Quantum computing is all about quantum bits, or qubits, and for processing every single qubit, the machine needs an undistracted environment. IBM has, therefore, consolidated all the components of the Q System One into a glass-enclosed, air-tight environment. The company also highlights that the integrated system is aimed to continuously maintain the quality of qubits used to help users efficiently perform quantum computations.

The IBM Q System One uses a motor-driven rotation around its two displaced axes to ease its maintenance and upgrade process. This makes the system suitable for commercial use cases, IBM said. There is also a series of independent aluminium and steel frames to help avoid any potential vibration interference that could result in “phase jitter” and qubit decoherence.

IBM isn’t aiming to bring the Q System One to the masses. Nevertheless, there is a plan to offer partners to the IBM Q Network programme cloud-based access to its quantum computing operations. This sounds like the Big Blue is aiming to bring a Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) model for its quantum computers in the future.

Actual use cases of quantum computing are yet to emerge, though IBM projects that there could be applications such as “finding new ways to model financial data and finding new ways to model financial data and isolating key global risk factors to make better investments, or finding the optimal path across global systems for ultra-efficient logistics and optimising fleet operations for deliveries”. All these are likely to be the areas where the IBM Q System One will be sufficient enough. Also, the system is claimed to have a number of custom components that could open the avenue for modular quantum computers in the future.

“The IBM Q System One is a major step forward in the commercialisation of quantum computing,” said Arvind Krishna, Senior Vice President of Hybrid Cloud and Director of IBM Research, in a press statement. “This new system is critical in expanding quantum computing beyond the walls of the research lab as we work to develop practical quantum applications for business and science.”

IBM has a legacy of bringing enterprise-focused computing solutions. But quantum computing is something that could sit alongside the company’s cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) developments to give it an edge against the competition. Having said that, it is still very early to predict the success of the IBM Q System One.

A replica of the IBM Q System One is being showcased at CES 2019 in Las Vegas. Moreover, Argonne National Laboratory, CERN, ExxonMobil, Fermilab, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are among the recent partners for the IBM Q Network programme.


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