This engineer lived in an RV in Tesla’s parking lot — now he’s on a quest to build electric planes

Impossible Aerospace founder and CEO Spencer Gore hopes to make self-flying electric planes that would make jet fuel — and the pollution from burning it — obsolete.

But he’s starting small by building battery-powered electric drones.

The company’s flagship product, dubbed the US-1, can fly for about two hours on a single charge, about as long as a helicopter can fly on a full tank. Gore describes the small unmanned aerial vehicle half-jokingly as “a battery with propellers attached.”

More than half of the mass of the US-1 is made of battery cells and the entire structure serves as one big battery pack.

Impossible Aerospace US-1 1
Impossible Aerospace US-1 drone
Andrew Evers

Impossible Aerospace shares DNA, and a clean energy mission, with Tesla.

Before he caught the start-up bug, Gore worked as an intern at two Elon Musk-led companies, SpaceX and Tesla. He was offered an internship at the electric vehicle maker in 2014, and and later became a full-time battery engineer there. He accepted the internship even though he was still working on an engineering degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign.

Rather than dropping out of college like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg, Gore decided to lead a double life. He convinced his professors he would be able to mail in his assignments, and travel back and forth between Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California and their campus for exams.

To save money and eliminate commute time, Gore even lived in an RV in the parking lot at Tesla for six months while finishing up his degree. He has no regrets.

“Honestly that was that was one of the happiest times of my life,” he recalls. “If you think about the two things that stress people out in Silicon Valley the most it’s commuting and paying rent. If you if you don’t have to do those two things, life is pretty good.”

Spencer Gore's RV
Spencer Gore’s RV

Gore says he learned some important lessons about shipping new products and keeping teams focused through major challenges during his tenure at Tesla. In the years that he worked there, Tesla was perfecting the design and manufacturing processes for battery modules that power its Model S, Model X and Model 3 electric cars.

Both Tesla and Impossible Aerospace created their vehicles thinking about battery needs first. Other companies tend to start by designing their vehicles first, and battery later. That can lead to cars or aircraft that aren’t as efficient and don’t perform as well, Gore said.

Replacing helicopters for some first responders


Drones have become a valuable tool during emergencies, because they can be launched within minutes to give first responders situational awareness, fight fires from above or help search and rescue operations. They’re even beginning to replace helicopters in some cases.

Impossible Aerospace research found that there are around 18,000 municipal police departments across the US, and around 32,000 fire departments, but only sixty municipalities have access to a helicopter. That’s partly because a police-grade helicopter can cost millions of dollars. “A drone can provide about half of the utility of a helicopter at less than 1 percent of the price,” Gore says. “It can even be more useful than a helicopter, because a drone can fly lower and get in closer to evaluate dangerous situations.”

The start-up is flying its US-1 drones on behalf of first responders in Santa Clara County, near its headquarters, to demonstrate the drones’ potential and teach officers how to fly them.

Impossible Aerospace US-1
Impossible Aerospace US-1
Impossible Aerospace

Because Impossible offers free help to police and fire departments near its office, Gore and employees at his company sometimes answer calls to bring a drone out to a fire or crime scene in the middle of the night.

Impossible Aerospace has raised more than $11 million from venture investors including Bessemer Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures and Eclipse Ventures, where ex-Tesla executive Greg Reichow is a Partner. While Reichow sits on the board at Impossible Aerospace today, the two hadn’t worked together directly at Tesla.

Several other companies are working on electric and hybrid-electric planes, including Pipistrel, Joby Aviation, Eviation, XTI Aircraft and others.

Gore said he’d be happy to see them all succeed, though he favors a pure-electric approach:

“These drones are direct predecessors to the aircraft that I think we’ll be flying on in the future. The real question is is not when will we have electric airplanes, but when we have electric airplanes that fly far enough to start replacing conventionally fueled air transport. We’re not going to stop until until it’s possible to travel anywhere in the world emissions free. It has to be done.”

Bill Gates ‘thrilled’ by legislative boost for nuclear

29 March 2019

The Nuclear Energy Leadership Act (NELA), bipartisan draft legislation which aims to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear technologies and re-establish US leadership in nuclear energy has been re-introduced to the US Senate.

Bill Gates (Image: GatesNotes)

NELA was submitted on 27 March by a group of 15 senators led by Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. It was previously introduced to the Senate in September 2018 and was one of several bipartisan bills supporting advanced nuclear innovation to be considered by the 115th US Congress, which ended on 2 January. One of those bills – the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernisation Act, which modernises US nuclear regulation and supports the establishment of a licensing framework for next-generation advanced reactors – became law on 14 January.

“Yesterday, a bipartisan group of leaders in the US Senate introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which establishes an ambitious plan to accelerate the development of advanced nuclear reactor technologies,” Bill Gates, the technologist, business leader, and philanthropist, tweeted, with a link to Murkowski’s announcement. “I can’t overstate how important this is,” he said.

“To prevent the worst effects of climate change, we need to reach near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it – agriculture, electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and buildings – by investing in innovation across all sectors while deploying low cost renewables.

“Nuclear energy is one of these critical technologies. It’s ideal for dealing with climate change, because it is the only carbon-free, scalable energy source that’s available 24 hours a day.

“I’m thrilled that senators from both sides of the aisle have come together to support advanced nuclear. This is exactly the kind of leadership our country needs to both solve the climate challenge and reassert our leadership in this important industry,” he said.

In his 2018 year-end blog, Gates, who co-founded the Microsoft Corp and chairs the TerraPower LLC nuclear energy venture, gave notice that he plans this year to “speak out more” about how the USA needs to regain its leading role in nuclear power research.

The draft bill was formally introduced to Senate by Murkowski on behalf of herself and Senators Cory Booker, James Risch, Joe Manchin, Mike Crapo, Lamar Alexander, Sheldon Whitehouse, Cory Gardner, Chris Coons, Dan Sullivan, Tammy Duckworth, Lindsay Graham, Michael Bennet, Shelley Moore Capito, and Rob Portman. It directs the US Secretary of Energy “to establish advanced nuclear goals, provide for a versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source, make available high-assay, low-enriched uranium for research, development, and demonstration of advanced nuclear reactor concepts, and for other purposes”.

It includes the authorisation of long-term power purchase agreements; the establishment of a long-term nuclear power purchase agreement pilot programme; advanced nuclear reactor research and development goals; a nuclear energy strategic plan; a versatile, reactor-based fast neutron source; advanced nuclear fuel security programmes; and a university nuclear leadership programme.

Advanced reactors are the next generation of breakthrough nuclear technologies that will offer significant advantages for power generation, the senators said. “Although the United States invented and commercialised nuclear power, our leadership has slipped, creating the need for new policies that encourage opportunities for the industry to design and deploy advanced reactor concepts. NELA will help facilitate the path to market for advanced reactors by allowing the federal government to be an early adopter of commercialised technologies; providing for needed scientific research facilities; demonstrating advanced reactor concepts; breaking down fuel availability barriers when the market cannot; and training the next generation of nuclear scientists.”

Electrek Podcast: Tesla’s biggest end-of-quarter sale, new Autopilot capability, Model 3 efficiency, and more

The Electrek Podcast is me, Fred Lambert, editor-in-chief of Electrek, and Seth Weintraub, founder and publisher of Electrek and the 9to5 network, discussing all our top stories of the week while taking questions from our readers and highlighting the most insightful comments on the site.

The show is live every Friday at 4pm ET on Electrek’s Youtube channel. As a reminder we’ll have an accompanying post, like this one, on the site with an embedded link to the live stream. Head to the Youtube channel to get your questions and comments in.

After the show ends at around 5pm ET, the video will be archived on YouTube and the audio on all your favorite podcast apps through our RSS feed: Grab the quick link to iTunes here.

We now have a Patreon if you want to help us to avoid more ads and invest more in our content. We have some awesome gifts for our Patreons and more coming.

Here are a few of the articles that we will discuss during the podcast today:

Here’s the live stream for today’s episode starting at 4:00pm ET (or the video after 5:00pm ET):


Although it isn’t very real-world practical, researchers at Cal Tech have produced a DNA-based programmable computer. Spectrum reports that the system executes programs using a set of instructions written in DNA using six bits. Like any programmable computer, this one can execute many programs, but so far they have run 21 different programs.

Using DNA for computation isn’t new — your body does it all the time. But, in general, DNA computers were akin to some logic gates that would do one set of things, not a general-purpose reprogrammable computer.

DNA has two parts composed of four different chemicals — you can think of each part as a ladder cut vertically down the middle with each “rung” being one of the four chemicals. Each part will try to pair up with a part that has a complementary set of rungs. The researchers created DNA strands to act like logic gates that have two inputs and two outputs. They combine five of these gates to create a layer with six inputs and six outputs. A program contains a stack of these six-bit layers.

The computer’s complete set of instructions uses 355 different types of components known as tiles. Each one uses multiple DNA strands for redundancy which helps combat errors. Despite this, the error rate is still relatively high compared to an electronic computer. The team reports they have programs that do copying, sorting, recognizing palindromes and multiples of three, random walking, obtaining an unbiased choice from a biased random source, electing a leader, simulating cellular automata, generating deterministic and randomized patterns, and counting to 63. The overall per tile error rate of less than 1 in 3,000.

A custom compiler takes input and produces the information required to “run” the DNA computer. The compiler produces a list of DNA sequences to add, when to add them, and at what temperature. It takes about a day for a program to complete, so this isn’t going to power the next wave of supercomputers.

It takes one or two hours for the DNA origami nanotube to grow and another day or so for the computation to complete. However, it does have possible applications for creating self-assembling programmable matter.

Maybe its time to start getting some DNA lab gear built. Maybe you can watch a movie on some bacteriaduring your breaks.

This $20 Alexa smart speaker is just as good as a $50 Echo Dot

Okay seriously, don’t buy an Amazon Echo Dot. We love the Echo Dot, don’t get us wrong, but there’s a comparable smart speaker out there that looks the same and gives you the same hands-free access to Alexa. The difference, however, is that it costs half as much. You’ll pay $50 for an Echo Dot on Amazon or elsewhere, but the Eufy Genie Smart Speaker with Hands-Free Amazon Alexa can be had for just $19.99. Definitely check it out before you buy a Dot.

Here’s what you need to know from the product page:

Related stories

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There’s a new $50 home security camera with the $300 Nest Cam IQ’s best feature

  • eufy Genie is a voice-controlled smart speaker with Amazon’s intelligent Alexa voice assistant. Just say the wake word “Alexa” and Genie plays music, controls your smart home devices, answers your questions, sets calendars, reports the weather and news and more.(2.4GHz Wi-Fi Network Support Only, No Bluetooth) If you have more than one Eufy Genie or Echo in your home, Spatial Perception Technology intelligently selects the Eufy Genie or Echo closest to you to answer your request.
  • Built with a 2W speaker that delivers dynamic audio and room-filling sound, so you can truly enjoy your favorite playlists from streaming services like Spotify, Amazon Music, TuneIn, Pandora and iHeartRadio. Call or message almost anyone hands-free with your Eufy Genie and instantly connect to other Alexa-enabled devices in your home using just your voice.
  • Enables a true voice-controlled smart home experience. Use Genie to control all Alexa-compatible Eufy smart products, such as RoboVac 11c and Lumos LED Smart Bulbs, in addition to other brands that work with Alexa.
  • Easy setup with the free EufyHome app. Use the Amazon Alexa app to access 10000+ skills and services, such as Sirius XM, Domino’s Pizza, Uber, ESPN, NPR News, and much more. Plus, Genie is always getting smarter. Future updates include: Alexa messaging and calling. (EufyHome requires a smartphone or tablet running iOS 8.0 (and above) or Android 4.3 (and above) to operate.)
  • What You Get: eufy Genie, AC power adapter (5ft/1.5m), AUX cable (5ft/1.5m), user manual, safety instruction card, our worry-free 12-month warranty and lifetime technical support.

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  1. This $20 Alexa smart speaker is just as good as a $50 Echo Dot

Artificial intelligence group DeepMind readies first commercial product Device can diagnose a range of eye diseases in real time as accurately as the best specialists Share on Twitter (opens new window) Share on Facebook (opens new window) Share on LinkedIn (opens new window) Save Save to myFT Madhumita Murgia in London MARCH 30, 2019 Print this page4 DeepMind, the British artificial intelligence group, has built a working prototype of a device that can diagnose complex eye diseases in real time, in a major step towards the Alphabet-owned company’s first medical device.

In a live demonstration this month of its AI system, where a patient agreed to be examined publicly, DeepMind performed a retinal scan and real-time diagnosis of her eye. The scan was analysed by a set of algorithms in Google Cloud, which provided an urgency score and a detailed diagnosis, all in roughly 30 seconds. The system is capable of detecting a range of eye diseases — including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration — with the same level of accuracy as the world’s leading specialists.

It was developed in conjunction with London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital over the past three years. Details about the research were published in Nature Medicine, the scientific journal, last August. In recent months, the company has collaborated with the team at Moorfields to build a working product, although it has not yet received any regulatory approval. A DeepMind spokesperson said that if the research results in a product that passes clinical trials and regulatory approvals, doctors at Moorfields will be able to use the product for free for an initial period of five years. Alan Karthikesalingam, project lead and senior clinician scientist at DeepMind, said it was a “major milestone” towards a bedside tool that could be used by GPs.

“What we’ve been working on really hard is how to take this type of early-stage research system and start to move it into a cloud technology, building a prototype of a system really used in practice,” Mr Karthikesalingam said at the Wired Health event in London where the demo took place. He said the goal of the AI tool is to figure out “should someone call a specialist and if so, how urgently and why?” DeepMind founded its health division, as part of its applied team led by co-founder Mustafa Suleyman, in 2016. The goal of this team has been to develop and deploy AI technologies in real-world settings, including GP surgeries and hospitals, but so far it has no commercial products and the division has yet to generate any revenues. Other health projects include a medical diagnosis app, Streams and programs using AI to analyse medical scans in the UK and the US. From the archive DeepMind Technologies Ltd Inside DeepMind as the lines with Google blur In November, DeepMind announced that it would transfer control of its health unit to a new Google Health division in California, an indication of its plans to expand and commercialise its efforts.

The market for AI healthcare services is rapidly expanding, with analysts expecting it to reach $6.6bn by 2021. “This is likely part of a larger strategy to make Google a reliable outsourced R&D partner. Demonstrating that its applications of AI can have a significant impact on outcomes builds necessary credibility as they move deeper into healthcare, which as a whole could be a significant business for them,” said Nikhil Krishnan, former healthcare analyst at CB Insights. “However as a business, eye screening alone probably wouldn’t move the needle relative to Google’s core search/ad business, especially considering the risk they’d be taking on it,” he added. In the US, the Food and Drug Administration’s approvals of medical AI algorithms has expanded dramatically, from two in 2017 to one or two a month in 2018.

One is an algorithm from Iowa-based start-up IDx that, like DeepMind, can scan and diagnose diabetic retinopathy in real time and is already used in clinical care across Europe. The FDA said it was the first AI system to provide a medical decision “without the need for a clinician to also interpret the image or results, which makes it usable by healthcare providers who may not normally be involved in eyecare”. DeepMind claims its product will not just offer diagnoses, but also be able to explain exactly how it arrived at its conclusion and how certain it is of the result, which is crucial for healthcare professionals. “For an ophthalmologist, this is jaw-dropping. What you can see is [the AI] has segmented every single point, about 65m data points in this scan [creating] super high-resolution images,” said Pearse Keane, a consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields. “We have to bring the same levels of rigour [to] how we validate the algorithms that we would with any medical device, but my personal prejudice is that ophthalmology will be the first speciality of medicine that is fundamentally transformed by AI.”

Wishing others well may boost your own well-being

Many people say that helping others through acts of charity or volunteer work makes them feel better and happier. New research goes further and finds that simply wishing someone well may have a similarly positive effect on our moods.
woman smiling drinking a cup of coffee

Simply thinking of others in a kind and loving way could make you happier, suggests a new study.

Whether it is escaping the city, going for a walk, or hanging out with our friends, we all have our strategies for reducing anxiety, coping with the stresses of modern life, or just lifting our mood.

But what role does helping others play in our well-being? Past research has confirmed that being generous makes people happier. Some studies have even pointed to specific brain areas that acts of generosity affect, suggesting that giving to others can help reduce anxiety and stress.

New research, appearing in the Journal of Happiness Studies, investigates deeper into several strategies for lowering anxiety and boosting well-being and finds that merely wishing a person well may do wonders for our mood.

Researchers Douglas A. Gentile, Dawn M. Sweet, and Lanmiao He compared the mood-boosting potential of three such strategies: loving-kindness, interconnectedness, and downward social comparison.

Douglas Gentile is a professor of psychology at Iowa State University in Ames.

The effects of 12 minutes of ‘loving-kindness’

Prof. Gentile and colleagues asked college students to walk around the university building and try out one of the three strategies for 12 minutes.

The loving kindness strategy involved them looking at people and thinking: “I wish for this person to be happy.” The psychologists encouraged the study participants to really mean this thought and say it to themselves with conviction.

In the interconnectedness strategy, the researchers asked the participants to look at people and wonder about what hopes, aspirations, or feelings they might share with them.

Finally, the downward social comparison strategy had the students think about how they might have a better life than the people they encountered.

Prof. Gentile and his colleagues also included a group of control students who were asked to look at people but simply focus on their physical appearance, clothing style, and so on.

Finally, the participants filled out surveys that measured their anxiety, stress, empathy, and happiness levels both before and after the experiments. The researchers compared all three groups with the control group.

The study found that of all three techniques, people who practiced loving-kindness had overall higher levels of empathy and happiness, as well as lower levels of anxiety. Wishing others well also improved the participants’ sense of care and connectedness.

By contrast, the downward social comparison did not benefit mood at all and made the students feel less caring and empathetic.

The researchers explain their results. Sweet, the study’s co-author, says, “At its core, downward social comparison is a competitive strategy.”

“That’s not to say it can’t have some benefit, but competitive mindsets have been linked to stress, anxiety, and depression.”

By comparison, “Walking around and offering kindness to others in the world reduces anxiety and increases happiness and feelings of social connection,” says Prof. Gentile.

“It’s a simple strategy that doesn’t take a lot of time that you can incorporate into your daily activities,” he suggests. Co-author He concurs, saying “This simple practice is valuable regardless of your personality type.”

Extending loving-kindness to others worked equally well to reduce anxiety, increase happiness, empathy, and feelings of social connection.”

Lanmiao He

The study’s lead author also mentions the implications that the findings may have in our digital age.

“It is almost impossible not to make comparisons on social media,” says Prof. Gentile.

“Our study didn’t test this, but we often feel envy, jealousy, anger or disappointment in response to what we see on social media, and those emotions disrupt our sense of well-being.”

Apple hires Tesla’s head of electric powertrains in effort to bring electric car to market

There has long been a debate about Apple’s secretive automotive project being only about a self-driving system for vehicles rather than a full electric autonomous vehicle. It now looks clear that the latter is the case as Apple hires Tesla’s head of electric powertrains.

Earlier this month, we reported on Tesla losing its VP of Engineering behind its latest electric powertrains; Michael Schwekutsch.

We described his departure from Tesla as a big loss for the company since he is amongst the most experienced engineers who have brought electric powertrain programs to market, not just at Tesla, but in the industry as a whole.

When Schwekutsch joined Tesla back in 2015, we described his background:

Michael Schwekutsch joined Tesla last year to lead powertrain developments after a two-decade long career working for legendary third-party powertrain engineering firms like BorgWarner and GKN Driveline. More recently, he managed programs for the electric and hybrid powertrains of the BMW i8, Porsche 918 Spyder, Fiat 500eV, Volvo XC90, among other popular vehicles.

Today, he is responsible for Tesla’s drive units from the design and engineering to the manufacturing and validation – all operations currently done at the Tesla Factory in Fremont, California.”

At Tesla, he participated in the development of “leading edge Drive Systems like the one of the Tesla Roadster II and Tesla Semi / Tesla Truck.”

Now Electrek learns from separate sources that he joined Apple’s Special Project Group, which includes the Cupertino company’s Project Titan division.

He is the latest of several top Tesla engineers to join the project, which was for a time thought to only consist of a self-driving system for vehicles after a scale-back of the plan. Now that Schwekutsch, who has exclusively worked on electric powertrains over the last decade, has joined Apple, it is becoming clear that the company plans to bring a complete electric vehicle to market.

Schwekutsch will join back Doug Field, who was a longtime engineering executive at Tesla before going back to Apple to lead their car project last year alongside Bob Mansfield, who Apple brought out of retirement in 2016 to lead its Project Titan car team.

Electrek has learned that Apple is also hiring several other former Tesla employees in what appears to be another wave of the poaching war between the two companies.

At the height of it back in 2015, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said about Apple:

“They have hired people we’ve fired. We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.”

More recently, however, Apple has hired some longtime executives and engineers that don’t appear to have been let go by Tesla. That said, the company has laid off many employees over the last year and some of them did go to Apple, which has experienced employment cut-backs of its own.

Schwekutsch comes to the program after some layoffs within the team confirmed last month.

Electrek’s Take

This is quite significant. Apple producing an electric vehicle from the ground up is a big deal.

Granted, they have no experience building vehicles, but they are hiring some top talent that made happened against all odds in the past, like Field and Schwekutsch.

If you add to that the hundreds of billions in capital and the incredible software and hardware expertise of Apple, I think you have a winning solution.

I don’t want to get my hopes up to much, but I am excited for them to disrupt the space even more. I can see it accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

Quantum Bits: IBM Tackles Noisy Machines; IonQ Issues Benchmarks; D-Wave Expands Leap

By John Russell

March 27, 2019

Keeping up with quantum computing announcements is increasingly challenging. Today, IBM issued a paper outlining a technique for error mitigation in today’s noisy QCs. Last week IonQ posted a paper benchmarking its ion trap system and declared, “our system outperforms all other currently available hardware” while a Microsoft-led group announced formation of the Northwest Quantum Nexus. Yesterday D-Wave Systems announced expansion of its web portal Leap during its User Meeting (Qubits Europe 2019, Milan) which includes industry heavyweights such as BMW, G.E. Research, and Volkswagen.

Widespread use of practical quantum computing may be years away, but the vanguard is pushing steadily forward. Here are bullets for five recent quantum announcements with a bit more information on a few them below:

  • IBM keeps chipping away at obstacles stalling real-world use of the current crop of noisy intermediate scale quantum computers. Its paper (Error mitigation extends the computational reach of a noisy quantum processor) claims the protocol IBM developed “will enable substantial improvements in the capabilities of near-term quantum computing hardware.” In this instance two or more wrongs can help equal a right. More below.
  • IonQ edges into early benchmark skirmishes. In its paper (Benchmarking an 11-qubit quantum computer) the company says its ion trap-based system achieved, “average single-qubit gate fidelities of 99.5%, [and] average two-qubit-gate fidelities of 97.5%.” IonQ contends the algorithms it used “serve as excellent benchmarks for any type of quantum hardware.” Recall that IBM touted Quantum Volume as its favored metric of choice just three weeks ago.
  • Microsoft, PNNL, and UWashington Join Forces. Last week, this trio announced formation of the Northwest Quantum Nexus, “a coalition of research and industrial organizations in the Pacific Northwest and neighboring regions with the goal of advancing Quantum Information Sciences (QIS) research and developing a QIS-trained workforce.”
  • D-Wave Systems reports “33 new countries includ[ing] all 28 member states of the European Union, Japan, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland” now have access to Leap, which D-Wave characterizes as “the only cloud-based service to provide real-time access to a live quantum computer, as well as open-source development tools, interactive demos, educational resources.”
  • Accredited Standards Committee X9, long-time tracker and standards association for the financial industry, issued two reports, a white paper (X9 Report Quantum Computing Risks to the Financial Services Industry) examining risks posed by QC and a technical report (X9 Technical Report TR-50 – Quantum Techniques in Cryptographic Message Syntax).

IonQ Charges into Quantum Race

Let’s start with IonQ, perhaps lesser known than quantum efforts by IBM, Microsoft, and D-Wave. It was founded in 2016 by a pair of distinguished quantum computing researchers – Chris Monroe (University of Maryland and Joint Quantum Institute) and Jungsang Kim (Duke University) – to take ion trap quantum computing from the lab to market. Monroe (CEO) and Kim (CSO) are leveraging technology they helped developed and have licensed from UM and Duke.

Most of us are more familiar with semiconductor-based quantum computing technology which dominates the quantum computing landscape. Ion trap technology has also been around for a long time and NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) has long experimented with it, not least for use in atomic clocks. The ion traps used in quantum computing are not so different from the ion traps used in spectrometry. Broadly, the technology involves trapping ions in an electromagnetic field and using them as qubits. While “gate switching” times are slower than semiconductor approaches, memory times are superior using ions traps.

Here’s a bit more on how the IonQ system works: “Our qubit register is comprised of a chain of trapped 171Yb+ ions, spatially confined near a microfabricated surface electrode trap. For this work, we load 13 ions, the middle 11 of which are used as qubits. The two end ions allow for a more uniform spacing of the central 11 ions. The ions are laser-cooled close to their motional ground state using a combination of Doppler and resolved sideband cooling. We encode quantum information into the hyperfine sublevels…At the beginning of each computation, each qubit is initialized to |0⟩via optical pumping with high accuracy. After qubit operations (described below), we read out the state of all of the qubits simultaneously by directing laser light resonant with the 2S1/2 |F = 1⟩to 2P1/2 transition, imaging each ion onto a detector and thresholding the photon counts to determine if each qubit was in the |1⟩(spin up) or |0⟩(spin down) state.” (See figure on right, click to enlarge.)

Monroe commented in the announcement, “The real test of any computer is what can it do in a real-world setting. We challenged our machine with tough versions of two well-known algorithms that demonstrate the advantages of quantum computing over conventional devices. The IonQ quantum computer proved it could handle them. Practical benchmarks like these are what we need to see throughout the industry.”

This is excerpted from the abstract on the benchmark performance:

“To illustrate the capabilities of this universal platform and provide a basis for comparison with similarly-sized devices, we compile the Bernstein-Vazirani (BV) and Hidden Shift (HS) algorithms into our native gates and execute them on the hardware with average success rates of 78% and 35%, respectively. These algorithms serve as excellent benchmarks for any type of quantum hardware, and show that our system outperforms all other currently available hardware.”

The Bernstein-Vazirani and Hidden Shift algorithms used in this experiment instruct a computer to find a hidden number out of a set of possible numbers. The company reported, “IonQ has solved for all possible 1024 hidden numbers with their 11-qubit machine, a more difficult task than has been attempted before on a quantum computer. Each test is based on a formula that a conventional computer can only solve by brute force…Quantum computers, in theory, can find these solutions in a single calculation by measuring all possible outputs simultaneously.”

It will be interesting to watch how ion trap quantum computing advances. Last August, NSF launched an ambitious program, Software Tailored Architecture for Quantum Design (STAQ), whose goal is to build a 64-bit ion trap QC and associated software stack capable of tackling problems classical computers struggle with. (For more information see HPCwire article, STAQ(ing) the Quantum Computing Deck)

IBM – Two Wrongs Make a Right…Sort of

IBM’s recent work tackles one of the thorniest problems in quantum computing, error correction, or in this case error mitigation. IBM has come up with a workaround that shows promise and is presented in a paper published today in Nature (Error mitigation extends the computational reach of a noisy quantum processor) and discussed in an IBM blog by Jay Gambetta, IBM Fellow, and Abhinav Kandala, research staff member, who describe the problem very well.

“Even at the extreme cold temperatures of a dilution refrigerator where the quantum processors operate, our physical computing elements, superconducting qubits, have coherence times on the order of a few hundred microseconds at best, which sets the timescales over which quantum information is lost,” they write. “While a major challenge to advancing quantum computers today involves increasing these qubit coherence times, the end goal is to build a fully fault tolerant quantum computer capable of detecting and correcting errors. However, these architectures are likely several years away.”

IBM takes a perhaps counterintuitive approach in which two wrong answers – actually many wrong answers – can act as a guide to the correct answer. “We show that repeating the computation at varying levels of noise lets us estimate what the quantum computer would calculate in the absence of noise. To do this involves a bit of a “stretch” – the microwave pulses used to perform quantum operations on the qubits are stretched in time in order to controllably amplify the noise. The error mitigation technique dubbed “zero-noise extrapolation”, is readily accessible for existing quantum computers since it doesn’t require any additional hardware modifications,” write Gambetta and Kandala. (See figure from IBM paper below, click to enlarge.)

The approach, say IBM researchers, may enable tackling longer more complicated problems as well as being a general purpose technique.

“Computations on noisy quantum hardware are limited by the competition between decoherence and circuit depth, a measure of the number of sequential operations performed on the processor. Increasing circuit depth can help create more complex quantum states, and in the context of chemistry simulation, this may allow for a better representation of the energy states of the molecules considered. However, increasing circuit depth on a noisy quantum computer typically implies increased errors from decoherence. [W]ith the technique developed in this work, our ability to mitigate the effect of decoherence enables us to access more complex and accurate computations that benefit from increased circuit depth.”

While the new protocol enabled computational accuracies that were otherwise inaccessible to the hardware, the authors caution that it is important to recognize that the improvements are not indefinite and are ultimately limited by the coherence properties of the processor. “As we march towards systems with increasing Quantum Volume, improved coherence, quantum control, and circuit compilation will all contribute to extending the reach to even longer quantum circuits with more qubits,” they write.

D-Wave: It’s All About the Applications

D-Wave remains the only provider of commercially available quantum computers even though they remain research (not production) machines. Its technology – adiabatic annealing – is quite different from universal gate-based models. That said most QC watchers now agree D-wave’s approach is a solid contender for solving classes of optimization problems. Recently, the company unveiled an 18-month roadmap that includes creating a 5000-qubit system (see HPCwire article, D-Wave Previews Next-Gen Platform; Debuts Pegasus Topology; Targets 5000 Qubits).

The emphasis at this week’s D-Wave’s user meeting is on showcasing progress towards real-world applications. D-Wave says “customers have built over 150 early applications on D-Wave computers to date” and lists the following highlight topics from the conference:

  • Quantum computing algorithms for optimized planning and scheduling
  • Building a hybrid algorithm that will be used as part of a smart mobility solution
  • Inferring correlation between future stock returns and their features
  • Applications of quantum annealing for blockchain and allocation of television 
  • Quantum annealing–based optimizations of robotic movement in manufacturing
  • Optimizing flight gate assignment
  • Capacitated vehicle routing
  • Quantum chemistry calculations
  • Quantitative financial reverse stress testing

“The future of practical quantum computing relies on giving more developers and researchers the access and tools they need to build quantum applications. Expanding Leap globally and bringing customers from around the world together to share their work is critically important to realizing that vision,” said Vern Brownell, CEO of D-Wave in the official announcement. “I’ve never been more confident that true practical quantum applications are within reach in the near future. The range and robustness of early applications from our customers continues to grow, and customers are starting to see early value in using quantum computing to address real-world business problems.”

Northwest Quantum Nexus Sets Aggressive Agenda

Obviously these are early days but the newly-announced Northwest Quantum Nexus is quickly moving to establish directions. At a two-day summit last week announcing NQN, the group issued the following statement:

“In line with the goals of the National Quantum Initiative Act, the Northwest Quantum Nexus accelerates Quantum Information Science (QIS) to develop a quantum economy and workforce in the greater Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada. The high concentration of quantum activity in the Northwest makes it one of the top regions globally to address key QIS needs. The goal of the two-day Summit this week is to bring together the region’s experts who can define the region’s potential to drive quantum computing’s future.

Its objectives include:

  • Bringing together academia, government, startups, and industry to pursue multi-disciplinary QIS research to deliver scalable quantum computing.
  • Pursuing quantum computing via collaborative research and development, targeted quantum algorithms and programming, and the development of quantum materials.
  • Capitalizing on public-private partnerships to promote a rapid exchange of knowledge and resources and drive discoveries in quantum technologies.
  • Applying research outcomes to application areas and testbeds, including clean energy and sustainability.
  • Cultivating the future quantum workforce through programs that range from early to higher education and professional levels, as well as the corresponding network of institutions and outlets offering curriculum and training opportunities.”

Todd Holmdahl, corporate VP of Microsoft Quantum, said “The Northwest Quantum Nexus represents another big step toward the development of scalable, stable quantum computers. The partnership just makes a lot of sense – we’re already one of the top regions in the world for quantum research, and the Nexus will help us leverage that expertise to build a quantum-ready workforce and boost the region and nation’s quantum ecosystem.”

Feature illustration caption: Single qubit trajectories measured at different noise levels (red, green) are used to estimate the error-mitigated trajectory (blue). Source: IBM

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