Orange Quantum Systems: Shaping the Future of Quantum Chip Performance

To provide value to end users, quantum computers need to scale. But simply increasing the number of qubits is not enough; they also need to be tested. 

Currently, this testing process takes days, which is too long for efficient industrial-scale production. This bottleneck has so far impeded the progress of the quantum industry—and this is where Orange Quantum Systems, a startup focused on the efficient and affordable testing of quantum chips, comes in.

Founded by Garrelt Alberts, Adriaan Rol, Thorsten Last, Kelvin Loh, Amber Van Hauwermeiren, Orange Quantum Systems recently secured €1.5M in pre-seed funding from QDNL Participations and the Cottonwood Technology Fund to build a full-scale system for the automated testing of qubits. 

Learn more about the future of quantum chip performance from our interview with the co-founder and Director of R&D, Adriaan Rol:

Why Did You Start Orange Quantum Systems?

I have been interested in entrepreneurship for a long time, but I didn’t want to start a company just for the sake of it. During my Ph.D. in quantum physics, I specialized in getting qubits to work efficiently. However, I encountered a big challenge—doing this at scale. Optimizing a handful of qubits, no problem. Optimizing hundreds or thousands of qubits in conjunction, that’s a tough challenge. 

So, I thought about founding a quantum software startup and developing software that would help with characterizing, tuning, and thus optimizing qubits. But it soon became evident that with the current state of the quantum industry, a pure software approach wouldn’t make for a viable business case. 

So I shelved that idea for a year until Garrelt Alberts, one of my co-founders who at the time was leading the quantum engineering efforts at QuTech, a Dutch research institute for quantum computing, proposed the idea to start up a system integrator. Eventually, we founded Orange Quantum Systems to go full-stack—software and hardware—and build a solution for qubit inspection with our system engineering capabilities. 

How Does Testing Quantum Chips Work?

Quantum computers today are not powerful enough to provide economic value, which is a major challenge for the quantum industry. They need longer coherence times, better fidelity, and, of course, more qubits. 

Just like microprocessors, quantum computers will need to scale to industrial-level development processes, which involves going through the cycle of design, fabrication, and multiple tests. 

We focus on that last part, testing the qubits. There are a few reasons why testing is hard and fundamentally different from testing classical chips. For classical chips, you can work at room temperature and get most of the data from simple measurements such as optical inspection or resistance measurements. For quantum chips, first, you need an environment where quantum effects manifest themselves, which for most qubits means going to cryogenic temperatures. Next, before you can even test the quality of the chip (e.g., coherence times) or how close certain (Hamiltonian) parameters are to your design, you need to bring the chip to operating conditions by executing a range of tuneup protocols. 

Testing qubits is still very manual, with state-of-the-art labs being able to test ~5-qubit chips. This involves cooling down the chips in a dilution refrigerator for several days, tuning them up, determining the quantities of interest, and warming up for a day. So, testing takes weeks, and only a few chips per year might be tested. 

Thus, if we want to build powerful quantum computers at scale, we will have to automate qubit testing. People have tested quantum chips in the past by building a full-blown quantum computer, but that’s inefficient. One of our insights has been that building test equipment is very different from building quantum computers. The real business case is in building dedicated test equipment. Funny enough, we felt that we were both too early and too late, as the quantum industry is not yet mature, but testing is so important that people are already building inefficient solutions in-house. 

We’re starting with superconducting qubits, as they’re the most established quantum hardware platform. From there, it is relatively straightforward to expand to other solid-state qubits, such as silicon spin qubits. Although the calibration and test protocols are different for different device architectures and qubit modalities, and these qubits operate in different frequency bands (e.g., microwave vs baseband), the fundamental physics of quantum computing stays the same. 

The most important aspects to our customers are throughput and giving good feedback on the qubit quality to their design and fabrication teams. We provide systems on-site that are completely integrated with the development process. It starts early in the process when engineers devise the architecture of a quantum chip, and we provide feedback on whether it actually works. Then, they optimize their quantum chips for fabrication to prevent crosstalk, increase coherence times, and improve yield. The architecture is now fixed, but it’s still about the right material choices and geometry—and for that, you need statistics.

How Did You Evaluate Your Startup Idea?

You evaluate what you’re doing by getting started and being critical and honest with yourself when considering what works and what doesn’t. After launching Quantum Inspire (Europe’s first quantum computer), many people expected us to become a full-stack quantum computing company, but we have decided against it as the technology is not mature enough. The core problem is improving quantum chips so we provide useful products as well as take advantage of a unique market opportunity. 

It is really not just about fabricating qubits but testing them. The feedback cycle between fabrication runs is still very limited and costly. With our skill set, however, we are perfectly positioned to address this bottleneck. We could also get started immediately by going to academic labs next door and helping them. This brought us paying customers early on in the life of the company. Now, with the recent funding round and the EIC accelerator, we can develop a full-scale system and automate a lot of the qubit testing. 

What Advice Would You Give Fellow Deep Tech Founders?

Start with paying customers and become financially independent as soon as possible. Contrary to conventional start-up thinking, it is not just about sketching a VC hockey stick in a cool pitch deck. You need to be able to actually deliver on this. By focusing on providing value to your customers, you can rapidly validate what works and iterate on it. The trick is to figure out how to align the long-term and short-term incentives. This will give you freedom and independence to focus on what’s really important, and that is to do something useful. 

Work on the Future of Computing at Orange Quantum System

Orange QS has many other open positions: Join them today and make a quantum leap in your career! Check out the Orange QS career page*.

*Sponsored links – we greatly appreciate the support from Orange Quantum Systems
Learn more about sponsoring the Future of Computing blog here

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