Quantum computers near a quantum leap

Tall Timbers

Imperfect but forgiven
A new class of powerful computers is on the brink of doing something important: actual useful work.

Why it matters: Quantum computers have the potential to solve unsolvable problems and break unbreakable encryption, but getting them to the point of reliability remains an enormous engineering challenge.

But the companies — and countries — that figure out quantum will take the lead in a new era of computing.

What's happening: Quantum computers — which harness the weird and difficult physics of the quantum world — have experienced a number of notable improvements in recent weeks.

In November, IBM unveiled its Eagle quantum processor, which packs 127 qubits — the quantum equivalent of the bits that drive classical computing — making it the first to break the 100-qubit barrier.

This week, Quantinuum — a new quantum computing company created by the merger of software maker Cambridge Quantum and hardware manufacturer Honeywell Quantum Solutions — announced the world's first commercial product created solely by a quantum computer: a powerful encryption key generator.

On Dec. 8, quantum computer maker IonQ — one of the few companies in the space to go public — announced plans to use barium ions as qubits in its systems, which president and CEO Peter Chapman says will improve the stability and reliability of its quantum computers.

By the numbers: The global quantum computing market is currently valued at $490 million, with 21.9% annual growth, and is projected to be worth nearly $1 billion by 2024, according to Bob Sorensen, chief analyst for quantum computing at Hyperion Research.