Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer

It will be hosted in the cloud, the first neutral-atom processor at Amazon.
Stephen Vicinanza
Aquila Processor Interior
Aquila Processor interiors.

Aquila/QuEra 

  • Aquila is a neutral-atom quantum computer that can run 256 qubits.
  • One of the fastest computers ever built
  • AWS is one of the largest cloud services globally

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is hosting Aquila, a quantum computer (processor) in its special cloud service called Amazon Braket.

This is a first for quantum computing, This is the first publicly available neutral atom quantum computer anywhere. There are other types of quantum computers that are accessible over the cloud, and there are other neutral atom machines accessible to only private clients. Making neutral atom quantum technology publicly available is a first. The company providing the quantum computer is QuEra, and it has been working in partnership with Amazon's AWS for some time.

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
Aquila Team Working on the Processor

AWS and Amazon Braket

For some time, researchers have been working on quantum computing, which has grown in tandem with the science behind quantum processing units (QPUs).

Researchers in quantum computing require a space where they can collaborate, share information, and start new projects. This capability is provided by AWS's Amazon Braket quantum computing cloud service.

Amazon Braket provides access to different quantum computers, and a platform for development and benchmarking of new quantum algorithms. AWS offers regular data centers and the services mentioned in this paragraph. They are separate lines of business.

The cloud, what to know

The cloud is also known as distributed computing. It is called that because data is distributed across a number of remote computers, called servers. The internet hosts the servers and those servers are where the data is stored. The cloud can run the software, store large amounts of data, run algorithms, and process all kinds of data, all in computers removed from the local computer (such as your computer, phone, or tablet).

AWS is one of the largest cloud services globally. Amazon Braket is designed especially for researchers to access quantum datasets. Braket is in the cloud, and hosts other quantum processors, as well as the unique Aquila quantum processor.

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
Aquila Team Member

What is Aquila?

Aquila is the first accessible neutral-atom quantum processor. Aquila is designed to solve mathematical problems known as Analog Hamiltonian Simulation (AHS).

In essence, this can be any kind of task, or body, such as optimization problems in logistics or finance, as well as problems in physical sciences that can then be expressed as a specific mathematical object, known as a Hamiltonian.

This is heady stuff to be sure, but the most important point is that quantum computers operate with a logic, a set of calculation rules, different from the ones used in regular computers, laptops, or tablets. This different logic, based on the laws of quantum mechanics - the physics of very small and cold objects - allows for shortcuts to the answers of certain problems, arriving there faster, or with greater accuracy.

Where an ordinary computer chip uses bits, which act like tiny switches that can be either in the on (1) or off (0) position, the bits in a quantum computer can be in what’s called ‘superposition’ – where they’re on and off, or somewhere in between, all at the same time.

Qubits can also take advantage of entanglement — when qubits have a relationship to each other that prevents them from acting independently. Quantum particles that are entangled share a state (such as spin or electric charge) and this relationship continues even when the particles are physically far apart.

These bits of computer information are called qubits, and QuEra has developed a processor that can run 256 qubits.

A Qubit is grown in the dark and chill

There are different ways to create a qubit.

One way to create a qubit is by manipulating the spin of individual electrons in certain materials, using microwaves, light, and magnets. They can also be created using the energy levels of electrons in neutral atoms or ions as qubits. Using lasers, these can be “excited” to a higher energy level and assigned values based on their energy state. Other methods for generating qubits involve photons, time, or superconducting materials.

There are only a few quantum processors that have taken advantage of the many methods there are for developing a qubit.

In the case of Aquila, Qubits are laser developed in a vacuum chamber, where a cloud of rubidium atoms is trapped by magnetic fields. Laser light then is used to capture individual atoms of that cloud, holding them like tweezers, and constraining their motion so that they are effectively chilled to close to absolute zero. These atoms can be positioned anywhere in a 2D plane according to the user’s needs, and are further driven with more lasers to excite their energy levels, and do calculations.

Aquila is a 256-bit neutral-atom quantum processor. According to AWS:

"The QuEra QPU operates by trapping atoms with lasers, arranging them in programmable one or two-dimensional layouts, and inducing interatomic interactions via van der Waals forces. The qubit consists of the ground state of the atom and a highly excited state, known as a Rydberg state."

"By exciting atoms from the ground to the excited state, the QuEra QPU is able to realize a phenomenon known as Rydberg blockade, whereby the quantum states of neighboring qubits are fixed by the state of a control qubit. Furthermore, customers can dynamically tune driving field parameters, thus controlling qubit states and their interactions."

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
A team member working on Aquila.

Aquila in the raw

Among the tasks that Aquila performs efficiently is combinatorial optimization. This involves the counting of possible solutions to complex problems like how many different ways can one combine the routes, schedules, and airports for the organization of a flight company. Finding the best solution according to a cost function is paramount to save the costs, increase efficiency, or even define new business plans for companies. The area is highly applicable across different industry verticals, from logistics to life sciences.

How fast can a quantum computer run?

Quantum computers are faster then the conventional computer. The fastest supercomputer is the Cray/Frontier.

Frontier is a supercomputer maintained in the United States. Frontier is a Cray model computer housed at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It can run 1,200,000 petaflops per second. A petaflop is one thousand million million (10 to the 15th power) floating point operations per second.

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
Aquila Quantum Computer.

The QuEra and Amazon partnership

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
Team Member Working on one of QuEra's QPUs

Q

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
QuEra Team Member

uEra hosts Aquila in its private facility. Amazon only provides access to it via the cloud. Of the project, Amazon's focus has been on providing better technologies in a field of technologies that are getting increasingly crowded.

“AWS’s quantum computing strategy is focused on customer choice. With Aquila on Amazon Braket, we’re bringing even more choice to customers who want to explore different technologies by bringing neutral atom quantum computing capabilities to AWS for the first time,” said Richard Moulds, general manager, Amazon Braket.

“It’s important to remember that there is a broad set of quantum computing technologies in the market. From our perspective, Amazon Braket is the best place to explore different approaches.”

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
Alex Keating, CEO, QuEra.

QuEra is approaching the partnership with a great deal of hope for a robust use of its technology, QuEra's CEO Alex Keasling told Interesting Engineering (IE) regarding the project.

“Launching Aquila on the Amazon Braket cloud is a major step for our company. This is now the first machine of its kind which is available to be used by anyone. So it’s an exciting moment for QuEra, but it’s also a milestone for the tech industry more generally," he said.

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"We have a number of industrial use cases in mind already, and have been trialing the technology privately to develop those. But now that Aquila is the first neutral atom quantum computer available to all, pretty much any company can come forward with additional use cases, and find their own new ways to put the calculating power of this machine to use for advancing their own business. It’s very exciting to us, and we’re proud to be the first to make it possible.”

The Boston-based company has developed this technology founded on cutting-edge research from MIT and Harvard University.

Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
Aquila Team Working on a Processor
Amazon hosts a first in Quantum computing: Aquila, a neutral-atom Quantum computer
Alex Keesling CEO QuEra