Pasqal, a Paris-based quantum computing startup, announced today that it has raised a $100 million Series B funding round powered by Temasek of Singapore. In addition to Temasek, existing investors Quantonation, the Defense Innovation Fund, Daphni and Eni Next, as well as new investors European Innovation Council (EIC) Fund, Wa’ed Ventures and Bpifrance (through its Large Venture Fund) also participated in this round.
Founded in early 2019, what sets Pasqal apart in an increasingly crowded field of quantum computing startups is that the company is betting on neutral-atom quantum computing. This is a relatively new and potentially groundbreaking approach to building quantum processors. Instead of trapped ions (like IonQ) or superconducting quantum computers (like IBM), neutral atom quantum processors use lasers to hold atoms in place with what are essentially optical tweezers.
As you can imagine, building the technology to keep a single atom — and only a single atom — in this trap created its own challenges, but that’s largely a solved problem now. The advantage here is that once you can do this with hundreds of atoms at a time, you can create both a very dense array of qubits and one that you can rearrange in 3D space using holographic methods as needed for a particular algorithm. And all this happens at room temperature. That makes these machines almost more akin to Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) than more traditional quantum processors. You can find a paper by Pasqal on this process in more detail here and it’s also worth noting that Alain Aspect, who won a Nobel Prize in 2022 for his work on quantum entanglement, is one of Pasqal’s co-founders.
Georges-Olivier Reymond, co-founder and CEO of Pasqal, told me that the company has already demonstrated that it can control more than 300 atoms at once. “It’s very difficult to have just one atom in a laser beam and monitor and control it,” he explained. “But once you get to that, you can scale that almost easily and you can create arrays in whatever shape you want.” He noted that the qubits are comparable to ion-based qubits in their coherence time and fidelity, but this flexibility and the ability to pack these atoms into a very close array, with only a few microns between the qubits, could make this technology provide an advantage.
Reymond noted that with some of these basic capabilities, the team is now working to build the quantum control system so it can begin implementing quantum algorithms. And while there are startups focused on building quantum control hardware, none of them are optimized for neutral atoms, he noted, so the company decided to build its own system.
Pasqal’s team is clearly quite optimistic about its system, and Reymond believes the team can show its potential clients “quantum business advantage” by 2024. He believes that this would require a system with 200 to 300 qubits.
At the moment, most researchers believe that we will not see the industry trend towards a single technology for solving every algorithm. Instead, different quantum technologies will find their sweet spots for solving different problems. For Pasqal, the team believes his system will work especially well for chart-oriented problems. “There are a lot of math challenges that you can rephrase in the form of a graph,” he explains. “What we can do with atoms is we can represent the shape of this graph and embed the complexity of the algorithm in this geometry. Ultimately, instead of using thousands of quantum gates, just by implementing a few, you can run your algorithm and then you’ll be error proof.
The company is currently working with Crédit Agricole CIB, BASF, BMW, Siemens, Airbus, Johnson & Johnson and Thales, among others, to help them understand where the technology can solve their business needs.
“We are very proud of this new milestone in the development of PASQAL that will make the company a world leader,” said Christophe Jurczak, managing partner at Quantonation. “Quantonation has supported the company since the spin-off of Institut d’Optique. It is the first scale-up within Quantonation’s portfolio and it really illustrates the excellence of French research and the competitiveness of the French quantum ecosystem.”