The Innovation Space

The Innovation Space

Qet LabsIn this edition, we take a look at the Quantum Engineering Technology (QET) Labs, University of Bristol.

Tell us about your organisation and what they do

QET Labs is a global centre for research, development and entrepreneurship in the emerging quantum technology industry. Our focus is on delivering new technologies in the information and communication domain that harness quantum physics for their operation. Spanning the disciplines of physics, electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics and chemistry, QET Labs brings together many world-leading quantum research and technology development activities at the University of Bristol.

Through QET Labs, we will deliver a radically new generation of machines that exploit quantum phenomena to transform our lives, society and the economy. These include secure communication systems for individuals, corporations and government; precision sensors for environmental monitoring, biomedical applications and security; quantum simulators to design new materials, pharmaceuticals and clean energy devices and quantum computers to tackle challenges in big data and machine learning.

The technology that we’re developing is based on the field of photonics so it uses light based technology to develop systems or devices that harness quantum mechanics rather than electronics to do clever and complex things. The science of quantum photonics is about taking tiny particles of light, the smallest possible chunk of light, and its associated “weird,” quantum behaviour, integrating all of that onto a chip and using that chip to perform a useful task.

SilverstoneWhat are the challenges that QET Labs is addressing?

Quantum based technologies are inherently faster, more secure and able to work at much higher precision than standard technologies. Our key goal is to develop the systems engineering and manufacturing technologies needed to build real devices. One of the first things that perhaps will emerge is quantum key distribution (QKD) or quantum communications, which will enable people to establish a completely secure networks between nodes. For example, businesses, financial institutions and governments all share a need to send highly sensitive data between locations.

We know that this type of information is often intercepted and analysed by security agencies. The NSA has gone a step further and has built the Utah Data centre whose purpose is to capture, store and decrypt data and the introduction of quantum computing will further unlock the potential of this facility. The good news is that with a quantum communications link, information will remain secure; the power of quantum mechanics means that if someone tries to eves drop on the transmission of your encryption keys, you will know because it necessarily changes the fragile quantum state. The fact that your data is then encrypted quantum mechanically means that it's unbreakable by brute force attack and your keys and messages are safe from evesdroppers. Whilst decrypting data may be of interest to the NSA, the more interesting and broadly useful applications of quantum computing will be for computationally intensive tasks such as machine learning in big data, face and pattern recognition, simulation of molecules for pharmaceutical application.

Who are the organisations you work with?

We collaborate with lots of academic, government and industry partners around the world including Google, Microsoft, HP Labs, Airbus, Nokia, IBM, NPL, DSTL and many more. We’re also a major node in the UK Quantum Technologies Programme and the National Network of Quantum Technology Hubs, funded by the Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC). Here at Bristol however, we’re at the stage where the technology development is scientifically proven and has rapidly advanced, and our focus now will be on building a supply chain, working with local SMEs in the South West high tech sector who can contribute to the final stages of development, working with us to take technology out of the lab, engineer them in to practical devices and bring them to market. There’s a multi-billion pound global industry to be established and the UK is extremely well placed to be at the centre of it: Nowhere more so then here in the South West, capitalising on Bristol’s position within the quantum technology sector.

What are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Our mission is to develop real technologies that change people’s lives. Bringing quantum computing into reality will transform artificial intelligence, healthcare, energy, finance, cyber-security and the internet. It will have a profound effect on the way we live our lives, helping to improve the economy and the digital world we live in. Quantum science and technology is a strategic priority area for the UK and the University of Bristol, with the UK government recently investing £270 million in these novel quantum technologies.

As part of the Open Programmable City initiative we will install QKD technology around the Bristol Is Open fibre network, creating the first quantum secured and accessible metropolitan network in the world. This will act as a future testbed for quantum communications technologies and we will work with businesses to develop technologies which they can utilise and exploit commercially.

What accomplishments is your organisation most proud of?

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Here at the University of Bristol, Professor Jeremy O’Brien, Director of the Centre for Quantum Photonics (CQP) was responsible for inventing integrated quantum photonics in 2007 and together with Professor Mark Thompson, he and his team are making history having developed the world’s first quantum processor. This processor is readily accessible through the CQP’s open-access Quantum in the Cloud service. Their integrated approach has been adopted globally, leading the way for major advancements in industrial photonics and placing the University and Bristol at the forefront of the quantum technology revolution.

At QET Labs, we’ve expanded from a team of 3 in 2008 to over 80 people with an active multi-million pound grant portfolio. There is an embedded culture of excellence and a very evident passion across the organisation about the work that we do. It’s a great feeling to be part of a team that are doing amazing things with the potential to have such a significant impact on the world. The Quantum Engineering Centre for Doctoral Training, which we established in 2014 will train 50 PhD students in quantum engineering, preparing them for a career in the burgeoning quantum technology industry.

We’re very proud of our research track record, and excited about the future and the possibility of taking our quantum technology developments to market.

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