One year after launch, where is the national quantum plan?

One year after the publication of the quantum plan by Emmanuel Macron, what actions have been taken? The most important is undoubtedly the validation of the Quantum Research Priority Program and Equipment (PEPR), which took place at the end of September with an amount of € 150 million at stake.

Things are progressing at a good pace. “The first call for projects under PEPR, with the theme ‘flying qubits’, will be open next week, and the others will follow shortly, explains Neil Abroug, National Coordinator of Quantum Strategy. As for the first nine projects selected upstream, they are in the contractualisation phase. “

The strategic question of talent training
Another important point: the opening on 16 December of a call for 60 million euro expressions of interest in education. It goes from bachelor’s degree to doctoral degree and covers areas such as physics, computer science, educational engineering, digital content of the MOOC type. It can also be about entrepreneurship education to raise awareness of the challenges of quantum technologies. The first transition date takes place in late February, with a second session in the spring. However, Neil Abroug emphasizes that from February, there is a need for maximum positioning on the part of companies to ensure that they do not miss the start of the school year 2022.

It should be noted that a pilot experiment has already been funded by the Future Investment Plan worth 3 million euros on Paris, Saclay and Grenoble. “We did not want to waste time, so we discussed directly with these three poles, which bring together the majority of quantum students in France”, points out Neil Abroug. Each site has been awarded one million euros, the majority of which goes to thesis scholarships, but which can also fund master’s scholarships, summer universities or initial quantum modules.

Preparation for maturation of future groundbreaking innovations
Another call for expressions of interest, this time for 15 million euros, was also announced on 16 December. It concerns maturation and prematuration of computer technologies and quantum sensors. It is based on a simple observation: It is impossible to predict what progress basic research will make in the next two or three years. Consequently, if a groundbreaking innovation is born of Quantum PEPR, it will be necessary to be able to accompany it in its valuation, its development by creating a start-up, its potential attachment to an industrialist …

The desire is therefore to be able to rely on French maturation structures such as the CEA start-up studio to help possible entrepreneurial projects or technology transfers, with tickets of between 200 and 700,000 euros depending on the stage of the innovation in question. “Typically, when the parliamentary mission submitted its report, Alice & Bob and C12 Quantum Electronics did not exist”, remembers Neil Abroug. Like them, other nuggets will show up over the years and need to be supported quickly.

A national hybrid quantum computer platform
In early January, the government entrusted GENCI, CEA and INRIA with the task of setting up a national hybrid quantum computer platform with a budget of € 72 million. Hosted at the Very Large Computing Center in CEA-DAM, it should promote the emergence of an ecosystem around quantum technologies. The ecosystem brings together research laboratories, start-ups and manufacturers, whether located in France or elsewhere.

International cooperation
In September, France signed a cooperation agreement with the Netherlands in the light of the strong complementarity between the two ecosystems. The aim is to create European synergies that start at the scientific level but can continue at the industrial level. Recent example: the merger of Pasqal and Qu & Co to create the first “full-stack” European player.

In addition, bilateral cooperation with the United States was decided in December 2022. It was to address the uses of quantum computing, aggregation of infrastructures, quantum communications networks, hybridization of classical and quantum computing, and development of standards. The government’s ambition is to have a joint declaration on a cooperation agreement (as with the Netherlands) in 2022.

Already plans for 2022
Efforts to roll out the quantum planning strategy will not falter in 2022. “We will try to launch in the next two months a call for projects on post-quantum cryptography, says Neil Abroug. As quantum data processing gets closer to practical use, it becomes necessary to provide data protection methods that are able to withstand it, because it is actually one of its most strategic applications (demonstrated by the mathematician Peter Shor in 1994).

“The value lies in the quality of the implementation, because even though it does not fundamentally change our infrastructures, it requires more resources, calculations or memory to compensate for the emergence of quantum.”, specifies the national coordinator of the quantum strategy. Our national masters (Gemalto, Cryptonext, Thales, Atos, etc.) must take up the subject.

Second main topic: the launch ofa “major challenge” regarding upscaling the quantum computer. The challenge during this decade is to master a quantum computer with several thousand qubits, that is, that can be used for real applications. Finally, actions will be taken to enable quantum technologies: cryogenics and lasers, which are strategic.

Julien Bergounhoux

@JBergounhoux

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