By Cyril Fievet, Small Times Correspondent
Researchers at CEA , one of the biggest French state-funded research labs, has created a first-of-its-kind electronic component that could lead to a quantum processor.
The component, dubbed "Quantronium," is an electronic circuit made of an aluminium loop. It constitutes a "qubit," or quantum bit, that could become the essential part of quantum processors.
Qubits are the quantum equivalents of bits in today's computers. Just like their traditional silicon-based counterparts, qubits will be used to store information or perform computations. They will be made of elementary particles such as electrons or photons.
Qubits are expected to allow awesome computational power. Contrary to bits, which are either "0" or "1," qubits will, for instance, allow a "superposition" of "0" and "1," and could help create new processors that would be thousands of times faster than today's chips.
Other research labs have previously demonstrated the feasibility of qubits, but CEA's Quantronium is more fexible and easier to integrate in an electronic circuit.
"The Quantronium is really the culmination of 18 years' work," said Denis Vion, a member of the Quantronics Group, and co-author of the article describing the experiment in a recent issue of the journal Science.
However, building computers, or even processors, based on quantum physics is still a faraway dream. It took almost one year to conceive and make the Quantronium experiment alone. And if, as Vion hopes, a logical gate involving two qubits is demonstrated later this year, it will still be too early to say what will happen next.
For Alain Rodermann of Sofinnova Partners , a French VC firm that has already funded microelectronics companies and is in the process of financing a nanoelectronics startup, there is no need to hurry.
"A quantum processor will not be operational before 10 years. I do not denigrate the advances in the field of quantum electronics, but so far Moore's Law (computing power doubles every 18 months) is still true, and it will remain true for at least 10 years.
"I don't believe that a revolution will occur," Rodermann continued. "It will rather be an evolution. There will be no breaking point, at least from a commercial point of view. And there will still be a market for traditional electronics for many years."
Rodermann said that all his company's investments are with traditional electronics, but much of that has moved to microscale levels Ð with processors under 0.1 micron.
"In fact, what we see is a continuity, from electronics to micro-electronics and maybe later, to nanoelectronics," he said.
Rodermann said that for now, state-funded research will have to fund quantum research. "It's very hard for VCs to take the risk to finance basic research. For a simple question of time: funds' lives are about 10 years long. We are then forced to try to make profits before five or six years, which is not long enough for companies involved in such long-term research."