France’s quantum strategy promotes the emergence of promising startups

In late January 2021, the President of the Republic presented the National Quantum Acceleration Strategy. The goal is to strengthen research and industrial applications. Although it is still too early to make an initial assessment, this plan has made it possible to speed up the administrative “machinery” for funding and to unite researchers.

Quantum computing is a very promising technology, but it has not yet proven itself in terms of applications. Due to the pandemic, many programs have been delayed, including the announcement a year ago of the national quantum strategy by Emmanuel Macron.

This massive plan includes:

  • providing new resources for researchers, including training, but also for start-ups and producers;
  • the development of quantum computers;
  • investments in all quantum technologies: communications, sensors, cryptography and enabling technologies such as cryogenics and control electronics.

A year later, where are we? Things are being put in place gradually, facilitated by an administrative machinery that does not pull its feet. This quantum plan is the first to implement a new research funding mechanism with 3 billion euros, including 150 million euros for quantum.

“This priority research equipment program, which has been extended to many areas, accelerates the allocation of credits to research organizations without going through ANR tenders, which slows down the system. The three largest national research organizations (ONRs) – CNRS, INRIA and CEA – can thus allocate merit to teams selected according to the importance of the topics, with a logic of building a bridge between basic research and industrial interest. This process has led researchers in quantum computers to group themselves by domain and coordinate better. These groupings have a virtuous effect of federal efforts “explains Olivier Ezratty, consultant and author specializing in quantum technologies.

Find nuclear submarines

In early 2022, the French government also launched a new program aimed at connecting quantum computers and supercomputers. The funds must be made available to researchers and companies so that France is up to the coming technological revolutions. Total budget for this platform: 170 million euros co-financed by the EU.

This new hybrid quantum computer platform, which will be hosted at the TGCC Computer Center in Bruyères-le-Châtel and operated by CEA DAM, is yet another concrete result of the national strategy for quantum technologies, presented on 21 January 2021 by Emanuel Macron.

During a video conference, the Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, reminded that quantum technologies can become vital in the field of the army for everything related to navigation systems or national security. One of the fears is that quantum computers could break RSA keys. This cryptographic system was described in 1977 and is used to secure our exchanges and transactions on all the open internet today.

“The strategic dimension is also found in quantum sensors, which have the ability to measure physical quantities with very high precision and with use cases in the civilian and military sector, which is a matter of sovereignty. For example, microgravimeters for measuring variations in gravity over time and space could facilitate the detection of nuclear submarines. But these sensors are also very useful in the civilian world as in medical imaging “emphasizes Olivier Ezratty.

Although it is still too late to know which applications and markets will gain momentum in the next ten years, quantum computers represent an opportunity for Europe to regain some technological autonomy from the Americans and the Chinese.

The computer power of a laptop!

“Europe can assert scientific expertise in quantum technologies, which can enable companies to play a key role in the global concert, especially in a market that will initially be highly specialized. There is an ecosystem of start-ups that is visible, financing has arrived and projects have been launched in collaboration with manufacturers such as Total, EDF, BMW and Airbus. ”notes Olivier Ezratty.

A handful of French start-ups, which are offshoots of research laboratories, have been created and show great potential: Quandela, Pasqal, C12 Nanotech, Alice & Bob … Pasqal shows the potential to bring “A computer capability worthy of the most powerful machines, which would be useful in chemical simulation, especially for inventing new materials, but also for solving optimization problems. We will be able to judge on the spot with benchmarks of less than 2 years ”says Olivier Ezratty.

Yet, at the moment, none of the quantum computers developed in the world can claim to exceed the computing power of a … laptop. These are still experimental machines that allow developers to learn to code. And they do not yet make it possible to develop software that would go faster than their counterparts on standard computers.

“The ultimate promise in several years is to overtake the largest machines, which are energy-intensive. Machines that use little energy and that would run algorithms whose classic equivalents require clusters of servers, or even HPC (High Performance Computing) can appear in less than five years.predicts Olivier Ezratty.

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