Singularity Update

D-Wave Sells First Quantum Computer

Michael Feldman, HPCwire Editor

This link is to a “Silverlight presentation by the D-Wave design team.


On Wednesday, D-Wave Systems made history by announcing the sale of the world’s first commercial quantum computer. The buyer was Lockheed Martin Corporation, who will use the machine to help solve some of their “most challenging computation problems.” Lockheed purchased the system, known as D-Wave One, as well as maintenance and associated professional services. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

D-Wave One uses a superconducting 128-qubit (quantum bit) chip, called Rainier, representing the first commercial implementation of a quantum processor. An early prototype, a 16-qubit system called Orion,was demonstrated in February 2007. At the time, D-Wave was talking about future systems based on 512-qubit and 1024-qubit technology, but the 128-qubit Rainier turned out to be the company’s first foray into the commercial market.

According to D-Wave co-founder and CTO Geordie Rose, D-Wave One, the technology uses a method called “quantum annealing”  to solve discrete optimization problems. While that may sound obscure, it applies to all sorts of artificial intelligence-type applications such as natural language processing, computer vision, bioinformatics, financial risk analysis, and other types of highly complex pattern matching.

We asked Rose to describe the D-Wave system and the underlying technology in more detail.


HPCwire: In a nutshell, can you describe the machine and its construction?

Rose: The D-Wave One is built around a superconducting processor. The processor is shielded from noise using specialized filtering and shielding systems that ensure that the processor’s environment is extremely quiet, and is cooled to almost absolute zero during operation. The entire system’s footprint is approximately 100 square feet.

While there is a substantial amount of exotic technology inside the D-Wave One, the system has been built to require very little specialized knowledge to operate. Users interact with the system via an API that allows the D-Wave One to be accessed remotely from a variety of programming environments, including Python, Java, C++, SQL and MATLAB.

HPCwire: What is “quantum annealing?”

Rose: Quantum annealing is a prescription for solving certain types of hard computing problems. In order to run quantum annealing algorithms, hardware that behaves quantum mechanically — such as the Rainier processor in the D-Wave One — is required. Quantum annealing is conceptually similar to simulated annealing and genetic algorithms, but is much more powerful.

HPCwire: Can you prove that quantum computing is actually taking place?

Rose: This was the question we set out to prove with the research published in the recent edition of Nature. The answer was a conclusive “yes.”

HPCwire: How much power is required to run the machine?

Rose: The total wall-plug power consumed by a D-Wave One system is 15 kilowatts. This power requirement will not change as the processors become more powerful over time.

HPCwire: How much does D-Wave One cost?

Rose: Pricing for D-Wave One is consistent with large-scale, high-performance computing systems.

HPCwire: What kinds of problems is it capable of solving? Have you demonstrated any specific algorithms?

Rose: We have used the D-Wave One to run numerous applications. For example, we used the system to solve optimization problems arising from building software that could detect cars in images. This process outputs software that can be deployed anywhere — mobile phones, for example. The software the D-Wave One system wrote, with collaborators from Google and D-Wave, was among the best detectors of cars in images ever built. It is discussed

HPCwire: What’s next?

Rose: This is a very significant time in the history of D-Wave. We’ve sold the world’s first commercial quantum computer to a large global security company, Lockheed Martin. That’s a real milestone for us. We are excited to work with Lockheed and future customers to tackle complex problems traditional methods cannot resolve. Last week we were validated on the science side by Nature and this week, on the business side, by the sale of our quantum computer to this Fortune 500 company.

Apple Is Granted Its First Liquidmetal Patent 

By Leander Kahney (4:00 am, Jan 05 2011)

Apple has been granted its first patent related to Liquidmetal, a space-age metal alloy. But the patent isn’t for anew iPad enclosure or iPhone antenna, as experts have predicted. Instead Apple’s Liquidmetal patent is for an internal component of a fuel cell.

Apple’s new patent describes “amorphous alloy” collector plates for fuel cells, an electrochemical battery that uses hydrogen to generate electricity. Although the patent doesn’t reference the Liquidmetal trademark, the material is an amorphous alloy or “metallic glass.”

Last year, Apple signed an exclusive agreement to use the Liquidmetal Technologies’ IP in consumer electronic products. But of course, the ever-secretive company hasn’t hinted at its plans for the material. The possibilites are endless. Liquidmetal is a super lightweight, high-strength, scratch-proof metal that NASA says is “poised to redefine materials science as we know it in the 21st century.”

Scientists who helped develop Liquidmetal have previously predicted that Apple will use it to build the next iPhone. So why is Apple interested in fuel cells?

Apple Is Granted Its First Liquidmetal Patent [Exclusive]

Fuel cells are a hot technology in Silicon Valley right now. The technology promises to be cheap, efficient and environmentally friendly.

Miniature fuel cells could power mobile phones for more than 30 days without recharging and notebooks for 20 hours or more.

Bloom Energy has developed larger fuel cells capable of powering homes and offices. The company, profiled by 60 Minutes, has raised $400 million and sold power units to Google, eBay and Walmart.

The problem is manufacturing fuel cells that are a safe, hard-working and reliable over many years. Lots of companies are working on developing the right materials. Because Liquidmetal can be made to be super hard, corrosion proof, and durable, it may prove to be the ideal material for fuel cells.

The collector plate described in Apple’s patent acts as a catalyst for a chemical reaction that separates electrons from hydrogen to produce electricity. Its only byproducts are water and heat. As long as the cell is topped-up with fuel, it will continue to generate power. The process is clean, quiet and highly efficient — up to three times more efficient than burning fuel.

Apple fuel cell rumors go back to 2003, when the company was rumored to be pursuing fuel cells for PowerBooks.

Published in: on January 8, 2012 at 1:12 am  Leave a Comment  
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