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Lockheed Raises Quantum Computing Bet

by Brendan McGarry on March 17, 2014

D-Wave

Lockheed Martin Corp., the world’s largest defense contractor, is putting more of its money behind quantum computing, even though the technology might still be decades away from military use.

The Bethesda, Md.-based company recently announced a partnership with the University of Maryland to develop a Quantum Engineering Center at the school’s College Park campus near Washington, D.C. A quantum computer uses atomic particles called qubits, or quantum bits, rather than binary digits to store information, making it theoretically faster at solving complex problems.

“Classical computing can only take us so far,” Ray Johnson, Lockheed’s senior vice president and chief technology officer, said in a news release.

“In the future, critical systems will become so complex that problems will take too long or become too expensive to solve using even our most powerful supercomputers,” he said. “We believe the next computational revolution will stem from applied quantum science—a discipline that connects physics, information science, and engineering.”

The release didn’t cite how much money Lockheed was contributing to the effort, which is the company’s second such agreement. Under a partnership with the University of Southern California, the contractor purchased a $10 million machine called D-Wave — billed as the world’s first quantum computer — for researchers at the school.

The 10-foot-tall, super-cooled machine, the heart of which was featured on the cover of TIME magazine last month, is helping researchers figure out whether the technology is better than traditional computers at certain tasks, according to an article by Mohana Ravindranath in The Washington Post.

“So far, the results are fairly inconclusive,” Daniel Lidar, an electrical engineering and chemistry professor who leads the USC-Lockheed Martin Quantum Computation Center, told the newspaper. “We have identified examples where the D-Wave is a little faster, but we have also identified more examples where it is slower.”

The computer is made by D-Wave Systems Inc., based in  Burnaby, British Columbia, which was recently named one of the 50 smartest company’s by MIT Technology Review.

Using a quantum computer to improve military logistic networks may still be decades away, but Lockheed wants to be ready.

“We believe that quantum computing will enhance our ability to engineer the next generation of increasingly complex systems and technologies while reducing costs and avoiding schedule delays,” Johnson said, according to the article.

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