The building is surrounded by industry giants, such as the aeronautics group Safran, the nuclear specialist Orano or the American General Electric. But it is not this prestigious neighborhood that will scare Quandela. The French start-up has taken it into its head to compete in the quantum computer, the supercomputers of the future, with giants like the Americans Google, Amazon or IBM.
Co-created in 2017 by physicist Pascale Senellart, director of the Center for Nanosciences and Nanotechnologies (C2N) at Paris-Saclay University, with two of her former students, Valérian Giesz, now general manager, and Niccolo Somaschi, current director technology, the company inaugurated its first factory on June 20, in Massy (Essonne). It already had a clean room in Saclay (Essonne), where its most critical components come from.
Member of the scientific council of Quandela, and present at the inauguration, Alain Aspect, Nobel Prize in Physics 2022, is also convinced of the future of the start-up. Good player, because he co-founded one of his competitors, the Frenchman Pasqal, engaged in another quantum technology, atom-based. “I am not a visionary but my career has shown that I can recognize a good idea. However, when I first heard Pascale Senellart say that she knew how to reliably reproduce single photons in her laboratory, I was blown away”admits the physicist.
An “application toolbox”
These single photons, produced by the first equipment invented by Quandela, are the technological heart of the quantum computer developed by the start-up. Google and IBM have themselves chosen a different technology, based on superconductors. These machines, no bigger than a large refrigerator, are already working. Open trials had been organized in the fall of 2022.
French manufacturers also use it to complete the calculations they carry out on conventional computers. For example, EDF called on Quandela when working on the pipes of its nuclear power plants. The missile manufacturer MBDA, the arms group Thales, the Française des jeux and the Crédit Agricole bank are also clients. The latter calculates more precisely the risk of non-payment of its borrowers. In total, Quandela says it has 300 users worldwide. Such a quantum computer costs “several million euros”says Mr. Giesz, without further details.
In this factory, the start-up plans to create a farm of quantum computers to which customers can connect remotely, via the cloud, which is also unique to Quandela. “Our idea is to develop a toolbox of applications so that manufacturers can use these quantum computers, a technology that requires thinking about algorithms completely differently from classical computing”explains Ms. Senellart. “We are at the tipping point between classical and quantum, but we know that, in the end, quantum will come first”, she adds, even if the traditional computer will retain a complementary utility. The quantum allows “to explore a more complex space, more powerfully and more quickly”explain Mr. Somaschi, but it’s not useful for relatively standard problems.
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