Atom Computing, a quantum computing company headquartered in Berkeley, California, seems to be on the fast track for funding.
This week Atom announced it had secured $60M Series B round of financing led by Third Point Ventures. The round also included Prime Movers Lab and insiders Innovation Endeavors, Venrock, and Prelude Ventures.
Atom was founded in 2018 with $5M in seed funds by Benjamin Bloom and Jonathan King. Over two years, the duo used those funds to secretly staff and build a quantum computer with a unique technology. What set Atom’s computer apart from other quantum machines was that it was the first quantum computer to use nuclear-spin qubits created from optically-trapped neutral atoms.
In July 2021, Atom Computing received an additional $15M in Series A funding from investors Venrock, Innovation Endeavors, and Prelude Ventures, plus three grants from the National Science Foundation.
According to a statement on Atom's press release by Rob Hays, Atom Computing's president and CEO, there was no shortage of investment interest. "We've seen a tremendous amount of investor interest in what many are starting to believe is a more promising way to scale quantum computers – neutral atoms,” he said. “Our technology advancements and this investment give us the runway to continue our focus on delivering the most scalable and reliable quantum computers."
What’s different about its technology
Most of today’s quantum computers use two types of qubits, either superconducting (IBM & Google) or trapped-ion (Quantinum or IonQ). Amazon doesn’t yet have a quantum computer, but it plans to build one using superconducting hardware. In contrast, Psi Quantum and Xanadu use photons of light that act as qubits.
Atom computing chose to use a different technology - nuclear-spin qubits made from neutral atoms. Phoenix, the name of Atom’s first-generation, gate-based quantum computer platform, uses 100 optically trapped qubits.
These qubits are created from an isotope of Strontium, a naturally occurring element considered to be a neutral atom. Going deeper, neutral atoms have equal numbers of protons and electrons. However, isotopes of Strontium have varying numbers of neutrons. These differences in neutrons produce different energy levels in the atom that allow spin qubits to be created. Atom Computing uses the isotope Strontium-87 and takes advantage of its unique energy levels to create spin qubits.
It is important for qubits to remain in a quantum state long enough to complete running the quantum circuits. The time that a qubit retains its quantum state is called its coherence time. Neutral atom qubits have a longer coherence time than most other qubit technologies.
Lasers instead of wires are used for precision control of the strontium-87 qubits. Lasers eliminates wiring, which can create radiation and noise that negatively affects coherence.
There are many other technical reasons for using neutral atom spin qubits but beyond the scope of this article.
Second generation plans
With its latest $60M Series B funding, Atom Computing plans to build a larger, second-generation neutral-atom quantum computer. Many additional qubits will give the system increased computational ability. Atom Computing is currently likely to have undisclosed customer trials and use cases in progress. However, we expect new and more significant use cases to be publicly announced once the new quantum system is operational.
Patrick Moorhead, president and chief analyst of Moor Insights and Strategy, said, “Qubit coherence, fidelity, and scalability are essential factors for achieving quantum advantage. Atom Computing has already demonstrated that Phoenix, its first-generation 100+ nuclear-spin qubit quantum processor, has the potential to check all those boxes. With the additional $60M Series B funding, I believe Atom could build a large qubit, second-generation quantum system that either brings it to the edge of quantum advantage or possibly even achieves it.
- It’s still early in quantum computing to pick a technology that ultimately will be the best choice to build error-free quantum systems capable of using multi-millions of qubits to solve world-changing problems. The technology that eventually can perform at that level may not even be developed or in use today.
- Scaling to millions of logical qubits is still many years away for all gate-based quantum computers.
- There are about three decades of prior research for various applications using neutral atoms. It recently emerged as a promising technology for building large-scale quantum computers.
- All qubits are fragile and susceptible to errors caused by interaction with the environment. Error correction is a subject of serious research by almost every quantum company, including Atom Computing. It will not be possible to build large-scale quantum computers until a method of error correction at scale is developed. I expect that significant progress will be made in 2022.
- Besides increasing the number of qubits and error correction, Atom will also be working on high-fidelity qubits.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.