Quantum Art: Shaping the Future of Ion Trap Quantum Computers

For decades, scientists and engineers have tried to build quantum computers with an advantage over supercomputers in solving complex problems. As the research advances, several startups have taken academic research from the lab to the industry, contributing to the development of practical quantum computing.

While one could build a quantum computer in many different ways, one particularly promising way is through ion traps: they allow for high-quality qubits, and their long-range electromagnetic interaction enables long-range connectivity between the qubits.

Quantum Art was founded by Tal DavidAmit Ben Kish, and Roee Ozeri to develop Israel’s first ion trap quantum computer based on cutting-edge research from the Weizmann Institute of Science and to realize the potential of quantum computing. It has raised seed funding from Vertex VenturesEntrée Capital,  Amiti VC, and Stage One VC.

Learn more about the future of ion trap quantum computers from our interview with the co-founder and CEO, Tal David

Why Did You Start Quantum Art?

Since my Ph.D. in cold atom physics, I have been intrigued by quantum physics. After spending a few years in research and industry, I transitioned to work for the Israeli government, heading the Israeli National Quantum Initiative—and I can tell you, Israel is a great place for quantum computing. 

Israel has a vibrant quantum community that has gone from very few to a few dozen companies today, both startups and groups in larger enterprises. If you’re interested in how to build such an ecosystem and how to move fast from research to applications, you should have Israel on your radar.

One and a half years ago, I saw all this exceptional talent in Israel and thought this would be the right moment to embark on a new path and start a company. So I decided to move on and start a quantum computing startup with two of my co-founders. One is a professor at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the only ion trap researcher in Israel. He has built a fully working quantum computer, reaching state-of-the-art performance. As a spinoff, this is our starting point. The other, also an ion trapper, has a longstanding career working in big companies and quantum sensing. Over the past year, we have built a knowledgeable team and some great ideas for scaling our quantum computer’s architecture.

How Do Ion Trap Quantum Computers Work?

Quantum computers have the potential to leverage quantum phenomena like interference, entanglement, and superposition to solve really complex problems—even problems that classical supercomputers won’t be able to solve. 

The basic building block is a qubit, which can be realized in many different ways, for example, using trapped ions. These individual charged atoms need to be well-isolated from the environment to maintain their quantum properties and harness them for quantum computing. Note that this sensitivity to external conditions explains why these systems can also be used as sensors and quantum computing is deeply tied to quantum sensing. 

So, the ions are trapped by an electromagnetic field, and are ionized, cooled, and manipulated by lasers. This includes lasers to flip their state and perform quantum computing operations that implement a quantum algorithm. Each hardware platform has its own advantages and disadvantages, but two things differentiate ion trap qubits. First, their performance. Whether you look at single qubits or the entire system level, ion trap qubits excel in terms of their fidelity, quantum volume, and other metrics.

Second, their connectivity. Most qubit platforms are limited to nearest-neighbor qubits, so qubits 4 and 5 can talk to each other, but qubits 4 and 40 are not connected unless you swap the interaction between all the nearest-neighbor qubits in between—and each interaction introduces an error into the quantum computation. 

Ions are charged and thus have long-range Coulomb interactions (the force responsible for electromagnetism), so it’s easy to make even distant qubits interact with each other. The most simplistic architecture is just a chain of ions, but one can also choose other architectures that could bring huge advantages for solving different problems. 

One of the challenges is that a step in quantum computation, performing a so-called quantum gate, might take longer than for other architectures—microseconds instead of nanoseconds—as the interaction between qubits to realize a gate is through actual motional modes in the ion chain. Since the ions are very isolated, the coherence time is typically pretty long—and it’s sufficiently long to perform many gate operations even if gate times are somewhat longer. 

Many people debate about noisy, near-term machines (NISQ-computers) and the ultimate goal of fault-tolerant quantum computing (FTQC), but in my view, there is no sharp boundary. You need to assess quantum computing on its merits, which is to beat high-performance computing at solving relevant problems. And certainly, there can be commercially viable quantum computing, even without fault tolerance. You can start with some error mitigation and, eventually, error correction to improve the performance of your quantum computer.

What is crucial is to get to logical qubits—qubits that behave like an ideal qubit without errors. What people do today is to take many physical qubits—physical, imperfect realizations of a qubit—to encode a logical qubit. The number of physical qubits needed to implement a logical qubit varies greatly between hardware platforms: some need a 1 to 100 or 1000 ratio—so many thousands of physical qubits to implement a few hundred logical ones. Ion traps can achieve a 1 to 15 or even 1 to 10 ratio, so you just need about 1000 physical qubits to get 100 logical qubits and start commercially relevant computations.

How Did You Evaluate Your Startup Idea?

When people talk about applications for quantum computing, this typically boils down to a few powerful algorithms known to efficiently solve factorization, optimization, or machine learning problems. So understanding the potential for applications is the easy part. 

Instead, it’s more important to ask, “Why me?” It’s less about specific applications but about how you get to the state-of-the-art in quantum computing in a relevant timeline. You can look at the roadmaps of established companies and, from there, extrapolate where you would need to be in terms of performance in a few years to be relevant.

We went through this thought process and thought that having lots of experiences and being a spinoff gave us the know-how to meet that timeline. Out of a few hundred quantum computing companies globally, only a few dozen are system-level companies holding quantum hardware at their core. This will be special as quantum computers will remain scarce for the foreseeable future. 

We take advantage of being in Israel. It is a small country with few resources except for exceptional, creative, and practical talents. This enables quick R&D cycles and fast transitions from basic research to applied technological developments. In addition, many Israelis who have gone abroad for their postdoc eventually return and strengthen our ecosystem. 

What Advice Would You Give Fellow Deep Tech Founders?

Get to know your co-founders really well! Many startups fail because of surprises within the founding team and diverging expectations. Knowing my co-founders for over 20 years helped a lot, and from the get-go, we discussed and established a mutual understanding of what we wanted to build with Quantum Art.

Also, it’s important to remember that building a business is very different from doing basic research and involves many things that technical founders dislike. That’s why you need to understand and leverage everyone’s strengths: a professor is likely not the best business manager, and vice versa. Get external help when needed and get rid of your ego. 

Further Reading

$32.5M To Develop Quantum Computing In Israel – Quantum Art is part of a consortium pushing quantum technologies in Israel.

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