Duality Quantum Photonics: Shaping the Future of Scalable Photonic Quantum Hardware

Duality Quantum Photonics: Shaping the Future of Scalable Photonic Quantum Hardware

Over the past two decades, startups and tech giants alike have tirelessly pushed quantum hardware to greater qubit numbers. But despite significant investments and remarkable progress, excessively high error rates are still a critical problem that hinders the commercial viability of quantum computers. 

When you assemble error-prone components into a complex system, it only exacerbates the challenge of managing these errors, so there’s a need for fundamentally better quantum hardware. Anthony Laing co-founded Duality Quantum Photonics in 2020 to tackle the barriers to scalable photonic quantum hardware.

Learn more about the future of integrated quantum photonics from our interview with the co-founder and CEO, Anthony Laing: 

Why Did You Start Duality Quantum Photonics?

Following an academic career path after my PhD, I became a research fellow, then a university lecturer, and then a full professor at the University of Bristol. Overall, I’ve spent nearly two decades researching quantum information science and photonic quantum technologies. 

In 2018, I was wrapping up a long-running research project on quantum simulations using integrated photonics. The research line began as a small curiosity about the mathematical similarities between photons in waveguides and vibrations in molecules. But it ultimately grew into a much larger effort, being the subject of an EPSRC Fellowship and a work package in the UK Quantum Computing and Simulation Hub. The results were reported across papers in high-profile journals such as Science and Nature and comprised the research efforts of a very talented team. It felt like the end of an era.

During that era, my interests had evolved from foundational research into quantum information science and toward quantum technologies, partly because I had applied the former to make discoveries in the latter. I understood that overcoming the hurdles to scalable quantum hardware required some new thinking, and I wanted to get on with developing solutions. At the same time, quantum technologies were increasingly being regarded as ripe for commercialization. While funding for academic research in quantum technologies is still increasing, greater resources are available to companies for R&D into scaling quantum technologies. 

I felt that it was the right time to try to connect our expertise to the real world and understand where actual market traction could be found. I also felt there was a unique opportunity, possibly once in a lifetime, to make this transition. The opportunity to strike out and start a company that could make a real difference in the world outweighed the risks.

I got in touch with Alberto Politi and asked him if he’d be interested in co-founding a company. Alberto and I were PhD students together in Bristol. His thesis, “Integrated Quantum Photonics,” literally put the quantum into photonic chips. He later did a postdoc in Santa Barbara, where he learned nanofabrication, before coming back to the UK to start a nano-photonics lab at the University of Southampton. 

We liked the idea of doing the full prototyping cycle from concept to chip design, fabrication, and testing, all in-house. Duality is headquartered in Bristol (UK), where it designs and tests photonic chips. Bristol typically appears high on shortlists of Europe’s most desirable cities to live in and is home to a thriving technology ecosystem with several other quantum startups. The company’s sister site is in Southampton, where Alberto leads our in-house chip fabrication through commercial leasing of the University of Southampton’s clean room infrastructure.

Our approach to building quantum photonic hardware has been influenced by our experiences in having to design quantum circuits around limitations in chip fabrication that were intended for electronics rather than for quantum photonics. We wanted to develop fabrication and components specifically for photonic quantum technologies. A handful of other talented and independently minded people with backgrounds in quantum science and engineering joined us, and we got to work.

What is Integrated Quantum Photonics?

There are several broad application areas within quantum technologies, including sensing, communication, and computing. And there are a number of hardware types that serve one or more of these application areas. But photonics is unique in that it serves all of these applications either as a complete solution or as a crucial supporting technology to other approaches, such as networking quantum processors.

Quantum photonics typically involves generating quantum states of light, such as single photons, encoding quantum information, e.g., qubits, onto those photons, then performing a quantum information processing task that exhibits some advantage over regular or ‘classical’ information processing. Integrated quantum photonics realizes and connects these components within single chips designed specifically for quantum applications. It is a highly sophisticated yet robust platform for processing quantum information. The goal is to generate millions of photons and to measure and entangle them through billions of operations per second. 

How Do You Build Scalable Photonic Quantum Hardware?

Our approach is from the ground up rather than top-down. To develop hardware that can scale to solve useful problems, we needed to develop better entangling gates. So, this became our initial objective, along with developing fabrication processes to support these components. 

Using these basic building blocks, in the form of entangling gates that dynamically adjust or modify quantum operations based on the measurement outcomes of earlier quantum operations, we can then design architectures that exploit them.

As with all hardware approaches to quantum information processing, there are numerous engineering challenges to tackle, as well as rounds of design and fabrication optimization. But we have found that these become much more manageable if we start with the right building blocks.

What Can Your Technology Be Used For?

In parallel to developing a platform for photonic quantum information processing, we were on the lookout for a distinctive application – a problem to which we could apply our technology. We were lucky when the UK Atomic Energy Authority approached us with some specific data processing challenges that stand in the way of fusion energy.

Working together with the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) and a private fusion company, we are designing photonic quantum hardware used to develop a Tokamak reactor. Being part of the effort to bring about clean energy adds to the motivation driving the company forward.

What Advice Would You Give Fellow Deep Tech Founders?

For deep tech startups specifically, hiring a team with exceptional technical expertise is essential, but don’t compromise on character or personality when you hire. In Duality, we put a lot of thought into creating a team that is both strong technically and which is a happy place to work.

In addition, it can be revelatory to connect with a key collaborator or key future customers. Developing the technology can be obsessive and a lot of fun. However, understanding the real-world problems of stakeholders can drive your technology in ways that you could not anticipate in isolation. It sounds like a no-brainer, but making meaningful and honest connections with your market is important. 

My advice to founders generally is probably what you’ll hear from most founders:

  • Be totally committed and show your commitment to your team every day.
  • Hire people you want to spend your days with, and politely distance yourself from any career psychopaths.
  • Recognize and be grateful for every piece of good fortune you receive. Anyone can list their problems or tough breaks at the drop of a hat. But it is beneficial to your mindset to list every advantage you have.
  • Break your vision down into yearly, quarterly, weekly, and daily goals. Focus on today’s goals. Do that every day, and you’ll be closer to achieving the vision.
  • If you’re facing a problem that you can’t see an answer to, talk to someone in the company about it. You’re more likely to solve the problem once you describe it to a trusted colleague. It goes back to having a good team around you.

Work on the Future of Computing at Duality Quantum Photonics

We’ve grown steadily over the past four years and have recently moved into new premises. We’re hiring across technical and operational roles. If you like the idea of working with us, get in touch: ops@dualityqp.com