Honeywell, an industrial giant that was once best known for products like digital thermostats, is announcing today what it says is the world’s most powerful quantum computer. The firm is confident it will beat the likes of Google and IBM in the race to scale the tech, according to quantum solutions president Tony Uttley. It landed a major first client: JPMorgan Chase is teaming up with Honeywell to develop algorithms using the supercomputer. Click here for more BI Prime stories.
Sign up here to receive updates on all things Innovation Inc. The quantum wars are heating up, but the latest company to officially enter the fray is not the typical firm one might expect to compete against the Silicon Valley tech giants. While perhaps once best known for its digital thermostats and other consumer products, Honeywell has pivoted in the last few years to help customers like airlines tackle their own tech overhauls. Now, the 103-year-old industrial conglomerate is introducing what it says will be the world’s most powerful quantum supercomputer.As part of a Tuesday morning announcement, Honeywell says it is partnering with JPMorgan Chase to develop algorithms using the advanced machine. The Wall Street bank has been studying quantum computing as a way to accelerate financial modeling, part of its $11 billion spend on technology each year.JPMorgan is also working with IBM on initial test cases, so it’s a big win for Honeywell as it looks to go toe-to-toe with “Big Blue” and Google. While the two tech behemoths have sparred recently over which is superior when it comes to quantum capabilities, both fall short of Honeywell’s, according to quantum solutions president Tony Uttley.
“It’s not just a race between companies. It’s a race across the globe. It’s a race between countries,” he told Business Insider. “One of the scarcest resources that exists in quantum computing is the human resource. And so we intentionally built out a team [that] was going to be at scale for our success.”The company has over 100 scientists, engineers, coders, technicians, and other infrastructure experts dedicated to the project. And such a deep bench will be necessary to succeed in the still nascent industry, where finding talent continues to be a major challenge.Beating IBM and Google Quantum computing is one of the most complicated technologies currently in development. Essentially, it will allow organizations to run complex applications in a very short amount of time because algorithms can scale at a much faster rate than with regular computers. Drug manufacturers, for example, will be able to test significantly more molecular interactions to speed the development of new treatments.Google and IBM have both been touting their advancements in the field in an attempt to one-up the other in a race to commercialize the technology. IBM, for example, blasted Google’s 2019 claim that it obtained “quantum supremacy” and argued that the firm was exaggerating results. Google CEO Sundar Pichai countered that the term is “technical” and that “people in the community understand exactly what the milestone means.”
But Honeywell says its supercomputer stands out from rivals. Typically, the industry has used the number of qubits — which are bits that act as both a one and a zero — as a benchmark for the scale of quantum capabilities. A standard bit that acts as a single number is restricted to just those two values, but a qubit can be all four at once, giving it immense processing power. Google, for example, previously said that its 54-qubit processor was able to calculate in 200 seconds what would take even today’s most powerful computers nearly 10,000 years to complete. But Honeywell and others are also using a different metric referred to as “quantum volume,” one that goes beyond just counting qubits. Instead, it includes factors like the complexity of the problem that the supercomputer must solve. “The number of qubits is only one side of the coin, because the qubits have to be of high quality and have to be interconnected as much as possible in order to execute a circuit more efficiently,” said Marco Pistoia, managing director and global head of JPMorgan’s Future Lab for Applied Research & Engineering who joined the bank in January following 24 years at IBM.
A decade-long questAt launch, Honeywell’s supercomputer will have a minimum quantum volume of 64. The company says this is twice the capacity of the nearest competitor. IBM, for example, said in January that its latest supercomputer had a quantum volume of 32. “Honeywell is releasing a computer that is quite revolutionary,” said Pistoia. “This is very, very promising.” The journey to develop the machine started a decade ago. Engineers at the company realized they could combine many of the capabilities present across its different verticals — like cryogenics, magnetics, and ultra-high vacuum systems — to build it. “We were sitting in a sweet spot of having all of the underlying technologies needed to go do it,” Uttley said. “We decided to organize for success around this and create an at-scale organization designed to build and ultimately release trapped ion quantum computers.” Under the trapped ion system, the qubits are suspended in air using electromagnets. That reduces the number of errors and allows Honeywell to connect more qubits together, ultimately bolstering the processing power, according to Uttley.
The company is so confident in its approach that it’s promising to increase its quantum volume by 10-fold each year for the next five years — much faster than the industry consensus for growth. “The necessities that need to exist to make that happen, we already have in our system,” Uttley said. On top of the JPMorgan collaboration, Honeywell also previously partnered with Microsoft to let Azure customers have access to its quantum computer.While the tech still in the very early stages, the joint ventures show how critical it is for IT departments to begin thinking about ways the technology could fit within their own enterprises.